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Exodus 20:1-20: 10 Commandments
Genesis 3 Review
The first lesson in this second Bible Essentials series starts with understanding the origins of sin. We take a look at the original sin by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and see the consequences that God has laid out—death. This is a repeat lesson from the first Bible Essentials series (and Substack doesn’t have the tools for me to re-send the lesson), so I’ll link to it here so you can review it (or read it for the first time).
For those of you who’ve read this lesson before, I did update a few things, so it might be worth reading again!
The lesson on the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20 is lesson 2 in this series.
Exodus 20 Opening
Individuals: Take time to think back about your past week. Where have you seen God work in your life or answer prayer? Write down any prayer requests you have.
Group: Open the study by sharing life updates, reviewing highs and lows of your past week, or sharing prayer requests and praises.
Icebreaker: When you were growing up, what rules did your parents require you to follow? Did you follow them willingly? Or did you rebel?
All: Begin the study with a word of prayer, asking God to open your heart for today’s study. You can also pray for any prayer requests now, or save that for the end.
Read today’s passage: Exodus 20:1-20.
1 And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
What is the context for this passage?
Historically, the context of this passage is that God has just freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and they are now on their way to taking over the land that God has promised to them. But first, the Israelites stop so that Moses, their leader, can ascend Mount Sinai and meet with God. There, God gives Moses the law. In particular, God gives Moses the 10 Commandments.
Theologically, the law holds an important place in the Old Testament. The law is how God’s people, the Israelites, know what God expects of them. The law draws the line between sin and righteousness, between those who follow God and those who don’t. This is important to keep in mind as we proceed through this study. We’ll look at the 10 Commandments as the classic highlight of the law in the Old Testament, although it is only a small portion of the entirety of the law that God expected the Israelites to follow.
Read the passage again.
Explore a different version if you have one available. If you are online, here is Exodus 20 in NIV through Bible Gateway. You can change the version by using the dropdown menu at the top right of the page.
Try to summarize the passage in your own words.
Answer these three questions about the passage:
1. What does the passage say about God?
God brought the Israelites out of slavery. If you go back and read Exodus 1-14, you will have no doubt that God, not any human, freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God reminds the Israelites of this in Exodus 20:2.
God commands us to worship him only. God’s first and second commands were that the Israelites should worship no other gods, including idols. God alone is worthy of our worship. There’s no point in worshiping the created thing rather than the Creator.
God is jealous. Usually we think of jealousy as something bad, but in God’s case, he knows his place in all creation. He knows that he is the only one who is worthy of worship. He knows that he is the only true God. And when he sees people worshiping someone or something other than him, he is rightfully jealous. We learned about this characteristic in the God is Judge study.
God punishes those who hate him. In the Genesis 3 study, we learned that God established death as the punishment for sin. In Exodus 20:5, we see that one major sin is hate for God. God will punish those who hate him, and because this hatred often spans generations, his punishment will also span generations.
God loves those who obey his commands. God wants to have a relationship with us, and part of that relationship is that if we respect and worship God as the one true God, then we will obey his commands. God reserves a special love for those who join in this relationship. This love can span many more generations than God’s punishment to those who hate him.
God commands us to use his name wisely. Using God’s name in vain (i.e., using God’s name as a swear word) is pretty common these days, even for people who profess to be Christians. As we learned in the God is Worthy study, God’s name alone is a vital part of who God is. Misusing God’s name should not be taken lightly. God will not hold you guiltless if you misuse his name.
God commands us to use the seventh day as a day of rest. In his wisdom, God provided one day each week for us to rest and worship him. On this day, we set aside our work so that we can focus on God. God says that this day is holy, and we are commanded to keep it holy.
God created the world in six days. Just like we saw in Genesis 1, this passage reminds us that God created everything in six days. This includes the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them. The prettiest butterfly. The ugliest fish. The largest elephant. And you and me.
God commands us to honor our parents. Throughout the Bible, God is depicted as a loving Father for his people. It’s only fitting, then, that God would include commands for the relationship between parents and children in his law. We discussed this concept in more depth in our Commands to Children About Parents study. The command to honor your father and mother is repeated several times in the Bible.
God commands us to have right relationships with other people. Relationships between people can get complicated when we think of ourselves first. When we decide to murder someone who does us wrong. When we have a sexual relationship outside the bounds of marriage. When we take something that isn’t ours or lie about something to protect ourselves. When we always want what someone else has. We need to avoid these things to have a right relationship with other people and a right relationship with God.
2. What does the passage say about people?
People tend to worship things other than God. If it was natural for us to worship God alone, then God wouldn’t need to include a commandment not to worship other gods. As humans, we tend to worship things we can see and feel and experience. Things that fit our worldview. All of these things lead us away from a focus on God.
People tend to misuse God’s name. Whether it’s in movies or on TV, in school or in the workplace, hanging out with friends for a night out, or even in our own home, we hear people misuse God’s name all the time. It’s pervasive in our society. Does this bother you? Or are you used to it? Do you participate in this? If so, consider trying to break this habit.
People tend to focus on work and forget about God. In a society that is focused on success and wealth, a lot of people put a lot of energy into their work. Sometimes, this becomes all pervasive in their lives. Or we focus on activities or responsibilities that aren’t technically work we get paid for, but they are things we prioritize. When these things start to come ahead of God in our priority list, they become a problem.
People tend to think of themselves first. As humans, it’s natural to see things from our own perspective and want things our own way. We want that thing in the store window. We want the spouse someone else has. We want to protect our own reputation. We want revenge on someone who wronged us. It’s all about me, me, me. God warns us away from this type of attitude.
People feel fear when they experience God. When the Israelites saw the presence of God on Mount Sinai, they were filled with fear. And rightly so. They saw God’s presence as thunder and lightning and smoke. They saw the grandeur and majesty of who God is. I would imagine this scene was terrifying for the people who had not experienced God in this way before. The same can be true for us. When we truly experience God in a real way, we develop a healthy fear that keeps us in right relationship with him.
3. What does the passage say about God’s plan?
God’s plan is for people to be in right relationship with him. The first four commandments (verses 3-11) are all about how we can have a right relationship with God. We worship God and God alone. We don’t misuse God’s name. We honor God’s Sabbath day by keeping it holy. By following these commands, we orient our lives around worshiping God first and foremost.
God’s plan is for people to be in right relationship with other people. The last six commandments (verses 12-17) are all about how we can have a right relationship with other people. We must honor our father and mother. We should not murder, commit adultery, or steal. We should not lie or covet. As we build right relationships with the people God has created, it strengthens our relationship with God.
God’s plan is that the fear of God will keep us from sinning. We may not see the presence of God as thunder and lightning and smoke much these days, but the Bible gives us many descriptions of who God is. It’s only when we truly see God for who he is, especially his holiness and his wrath for sin, that we have the proper fear of God that keeps us from sinning.
How does the passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
Sometimes it’s easier to understand a passage if you have a little outside knowledge from other passages in the Bible. This section will help provide that outside perspective.
In the Old Testament, the law was how God held the Israelites accountable. God wanted a relationship with his chosen nation, the Israelites. He intervened for them time and time again. But he also wanted them to follow him and him only. So God gave them the law. The law told them what rules they needed to follow to be obedient to him.
Of course, being humans, the Israelites often fell away and pursued other gods. They forgot about God’s commands. Because of their sin nature, they were not able to keep 100% of the law 100% of the time. In other words, they sinned against God by breaking his commands. God knew this would happen. He knew that no human would be capable of completely following the law. Really, the law was there to remind the people of how often they fell short of God’s holiness. So within the law, he gave them a system of sacrifices to not only worship God but to atone for their sins.
The system of sacrifices to atone for sin in the Old Testament was only a temporary solution. The people had to rely on a high priest to make sacrifices for them and to communicate with God for them. As people continued to sin, God continued to expect sacrifices to atone for those sins. It was an endless cycle of sin and sacrifice. Shouldn’t there be a better way?
That better way came in the New Testament when God sent his only Son, Jesus, to be a sacrifice once for all people. Jesus came to fulfill the law so that people would no longer have to offer sacrifices. Jesus came to show us a higher law—a law not based on rules and regulations but a law based on God’s grace. If we accept the sacrifice Jesus made for us, then God will see us through the lens of Jesus’ righteousness. This is the only way we can stand blameless before God.
Individual: Answer the following questions thoughtfully for yourself.
Group: Pose these questions for discussion.
All: If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts to these questions. Feel free to use the comment section to start a discussion about this passage.
What else strikes you about this passage?
How does the passage affect how you view God? How you view yourself?
How does this passage affect how you will live your life?
For additional study related to this topic, read Deuteronomy 5:1-22.
For Bible Essential studies, you can use my thoughts as your devotional, or you can download and use the journaling sheet to work through the passage on your own. If desired, you can then compare your thoughts to mine. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically. Journal sheets are available for individual or group use.
If you plan to lead a group study, a PowerPoint presentation is also available.
You can access these resources by clicking here: Exodus 20 Resources