Monograph: Dissecting The Decalogue

This monograph is concerned with the first ten commandments of the LAW as given to Israel through Moses. It does not attempt to discuss the plethora of detail explaining the fine points of the entire Law.

Call it what you prefer.

The Decalogue,
The Ten Commandments,
The Mosaic Code.

All refer to the commands on the tablets given to Moses on Mount Sinai, as recorded in Exodus 20. The Bible's description of the LAW, and the giving of it, actually spans from Exodus 20:1 through Exodus 23:19.

To set the scene: at Mount Sinai, the LORD appeared in the forms of smoke and fire, and spoke aloud.
[Replica scroll. This 1768 parchment (612x502 mm) by Jekuthiel Sofer emulated the 1675 Decalogue at Amsterdam Esnoga synagogue. Public Domain image at]

After the law, with all its commands and instructions, was spelled out to Moses, he repeated it to the people. Then in Exodus 24:4 we read "Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said."

First, Moses verbalized the entire law in all its detail. The Decalogue is the overriding list of commands, but is followed by a great many details and elaborate instructions for the life of the people. Subsequently, in Exodus 24:12-13, Moses and Joshua went up to the mountain, as commanded, to receive the law written on tablets of stone, by the Lord Himself, scripture says.

While Moses was there, the people made an idol, described as a golden calf, and worshipped it. On returning from the mountain, Moses broke the stone tablets. We jump ahead to Exodus 34:1-4 and see the Lord commanding Moses to chisel two new stone tablets and bring them up so the Lord can write the law on them, as He had before, to replace the broken ones.

Exodus 24:12 The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction." 13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Exodus 31:18 When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.

Exodus 34:1 The LORD said to Moses, "Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. 3 No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain." 4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the LORD had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands.

[All quoted verses are from the New International Version ©Zondervan unless otherwise noted.]

  The Tablets

Before the tablets were given, Moses wrote down the Law. [Exodus 24:4].

For reasons I can't decipher, the Law, as written by Moses, apparently was not sufficient. It had to be written on tablets of stone, by the Lord Himself. Throughout these passages, the Deity is titled the 'Lord', with occasional references to the Lord being their 'God'.

Why stone tablets?
How could they have been 'written' on?
Where did they come from?

The first set was given to Moses by the Lord, who must either have made them Himself, or brought them with Him to Sinai, from wherever it was He abode. The second set of tablets was chiseled from stone by Moses, in one night no less. How heavy would two such stone tablets be?
Did Moses and Joshua carry these down the mountain by themselves?

If the tablets were small enough for a man to make in less than a day, then carry up and down Mount Sinai, how big could they have been? Moses was past eighty years of age. Making them a suitable size, say weighing a manageable fifty pounds each, how small would the writing have been to take in all the Law? Mighty small indeed.

Inscribed with a laser beam?
I'm not making fun of this. I'm trying to get hold of it and understand it. With God, all things are possible, including a laser beam in use thousands of years ago. On the other hand, I see a couple of possibilities to explain the writing.

One is that the entire Law and details were not spelled out on the tablets, but rather a set of symbols relating to the details. Something like mnemonics may have been employed. Since Moses had already written it all, only a reminder may have been on the tablets.

Another is simply the familiar technique of creation, in which God speaks, and manifestations occur. Any nearby stone material would obey
[Rembrandt: Moses showing the tablets of the law. Public Domain image at]

Monument in Texas. This image has been (or is hereby) released into the public domain by its author, JW1805 at the English Wikipedia project. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible: JW1805 grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.
the command of God and appear in the form and manner He dictated.

Where are these tablets now?
Has anyone, other than those who were there, seen them?
Through the time of King David, the Ark was known to be in possession of the tribes. There are numerous theories about became of the Ark and Tablets, but no proofs.

They were housed in the Ark of the Covenant, which also is missing. Do the tablets still exist?

The Ark of the Covenant contained the law, the essence of God among the people.

What made the Israelites unique is that they, as descendants of Jacob, were chosen to inherit the covenant God made with Abraham. The Law was given to show them what they must strive to be to overcome the separation from God brought about by Adam's failure.

Before the Law at Sinai, was there any law?

Back in Adam's day, the only law was to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now, it became necessary to issue the law in great detail to show humankind how far it falls from the level of grace given to the founding parents. The Israelites, so named because they descended from Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, were the inheritors of the original covenant, along with the original fall.

The LAW stated in Exodus 20 is restated in Deuteronomy 5:1-22. I will use the Exodus version for this monograph. Exodus 20:1-20 & Deuteronomy 5:1-22 are shown in their entirety at the end of the monograph. We are going through them piecemeal.

  The First Commandment

[All extant traditions begin with this as the First command. Some separate the verses into two commands, the second beginning at verse 4. No matter how you number them, these are the commandments known as the Decalogue].

Verse 1: And God spoke all these words:

Scripture tells us the LAW was spoken by God in audible words heard by the people, and later reiterated to Moses.

Verse 2: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

God identifies Himself as the LORD who delivered the people from physical slavery in Egypt. This was extremely meaningful to the Israelites of the time. They had been in bondage since the time of Joseph's passing, and the regime change that occurred in Egypt. The deeper meaning is for us today. We are delivered from the spiritual bondage of our inherited consequences of sin, by this same Lord.

Verse 3: "You shall have no other gods before me.

Therefore, we shall not have any other God in preference to the Lord Himself, because He has delivered us from bondage.

Verse 4: "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

Precludes making any representation of earthly things, or things which exist in other realms, all of which He created. Taken as a single command, it was a violation of the law when John Audubon rendered his illustrations of birds. A strict interpretation precludes the existence of any visual art form or object. Cave drawings from millennia ago are examples of violations, though we may assume the cave dwellers had not heard the law, nor been among the Covenant people.

Verse 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 fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,

Seems to explain what is meant in verse 4. The prohibition appears to be against the use of man made representations as objects of worship. This law was broken even while it was being written. The Israelites made a golden calf to worship. There is a fundamental reason for this prohibition, and it applies to all humans in all times. Nothing is worthy of worship other than the Lord Himself who made all things seen and unseen. To worship a statue, or what it purports to represent, is to deify something that is not God. The sin inherent in this action is the failure to believe, and believe in, the One True God. This is what Adam and Eve did.

The placement of verse numbers at 5 and 6, by later scribes, makes understanding more difficult for us than it need be.

"4 You shall not make for yourself an idol 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;

Those who divided scripture in chapters and verses had their reasons for how they did it, and their divisions have been accepted by the church at large. It is my belief that verse 4 and the first part of verse 5 form one instruction; the prohibition of making an image and bowing to it or worshipping it.

I think a semicolon belongs between 'below' and '5' instead of a period, and a period belongs after 'them', instead of a semicolon. This word grouping is a single complete thought. Likewise, when we reach verse 6 below, punctuation misleads us.

You can marvel at the Eiffel Tower, or the St Louis Arch, and so forth, but not in a worshipful way. You can greatly appreciate a Rolls Royce or Ferrari, but not lust after it so that you lose sight of what truly matters. In their day, it was the mistaken belief that made idols were gods. In our day, it is possessions which wear the mask of deity, as if life is the pursuit of goods.

Verse 6: for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers 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.

Again, a complete thought runs from 'for I' through the end of verse 6.
These words give God's reason for prohibiting idols, and the consequences of violation.

He said He is 'jealous'. I do not believe God is a victim of the evils of envy or jealousy as among humans. Modern dictionary definitions of 'jealous' contain numerous references to resentments and suspicious fears, just what you find in humans. Is God like that? Of course not. What God is, is demanding absolute belief in Him alone as God. This is for our benefit. It is the truth. He requires that we know, accept, and hold to the truth of who He is. I mean, really, what could possibly frighten God? Why would he hold suspicions when He possesses knowledge?

The children are punished for the sins of the fathers, to the third and fourth generation.
Sounds harsh, doesn't it?
Why should you be punished for what your grandfather did?

What this means, in terms of the first commandment, is that those who choose idols above, or in place of, God, pass their beliefs on to succeeding generations. It takes a long time for this to be overcome in a family, followed by a return to faith.

I have personally witnessed this at work, in my own family genealogy, and my own life. I was bound by my own untenable and unsupported beliefs, until I was confronted by Christ, and had to choose, knowing the choice I was making. I credit grace, and the fact that great grandfathers from many generations ago, were devout believers in God. The mercy has passed down to me. I have watched in awe as my own., and subsequent living generations, have come into the fold. Thank God.

Now, if you can bear with this, I will present a modern rewrite of verses 2 through 6, as follows:

God came, manifest as terrifying volcanic activity, and spoke from the smoke and fire. This manner of delivery was very convicting to His listeners, as to the source of the speech.
What He told them, and us, is:

"Listen. Here is what I am telling you. There is only one God who is LORD, meaning ruler over ALL. I have the power to deliver you from bondage. That is what I did for you, so you would know. That is who I am. You must know and understand this, and not allow any thing, or being, whatsoever, to displace this knowledge of Me.

Those who do not hold fast to this knowledge, will deprive their children of receiving it from them, and their children after them. If you know me and love me alone as your God, I will keep alive this knowledge in generations to come, so your descendants can share in the belief, and reap the rewards of faith."

You will note that in the scriptures He did not say there are no other 'little g' gods in His creation. There are realms, or levels, of existence in His total cosmos. An angel being, or a demon being, have certain powers (I do not pretend to have a catalog defining them) which enables them to perform works which seem godlike. People in our time, and probably in theirs, have experienced 'supernatural' encounters.

Satan is even called the 'god of this world', meaning, the ruler over the realm of spiritual darkness, which is the condition of the physical world and its inhabitants.

You see, we have a choice. We can accept God as our Lord, or we can reject Him.
There are consequences to the choice.

  The Second / Third Commandment

[Some traditions make this the third, having separated making images into a second command, divorced from God's first declaration. In those traditions, one is added to each of the numbers in this list.]

Verse 7: "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. NIV
["Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." King James Version ]

The popular version of the command is 'do not take name of the Lord in vain', which moderns tend to regard as using profanity. I find a much deeper meaning in the word 'vain', which I will address below. Saying the 'Goddamn it' to or about something or other, is not a true call on God to send someone or something to eternal fire. It is a profane expression; not a prayer. It is indeed a misuse of the name of God, though not literally because God's name isn't 'God'. We have no idea what it is. The ancient Israelites thought it was the Hebrew characters YHVH, or a similar variation, which could be spoken as Yahveh or Yahweh. It means roughly 'I Am Who Am' or 'I Am That I Am', take your pick.

When God identified Himself to mankind, He didn't speak His name, if He has one, but told us what He is. Devout Jews will not speak what they think might be God's name. Wearing a kipa, or yarmulke, among the orthodox not only distinguishes them from non Jews, but keeps them mindful of the presence of God above them.

In order to comprehend what is meant by misusing God's name, we need to know how to use it.

Addressing God in the 2nd Person Directly

When you address your earthly male parent, do you address him as 'Male Parent', can have my allowance, or whatever? More likely you would say 'Dad', 'Daddy', 'Pop', 'Pa', 'Da', or whatever has been you upbringing and culture. If you wanted to be formal, you might address you male parent as 'Father'.

When Jesus referred to God in the third person, he seldom used the word 'God'. He was prone to say, 'Heavenly Father', 'The Lord', or 'Abba', the familiar term used by a child to his parent.

To me, the label 'God' signifies an entity in much the same way as does 'male parent'. This is the label or descriptive name of a being. It does not signify a relationship, beyond cause and effect.

I exist in the flesh because of my biological parents.
I exist in the spirit because of my spiritual parent/creator, God.

When I speak to God, I use the words 'Lord', 'Father', and 'Abba', but mostly Lord. It signifies that He is my ruler, master, source of authority, while at the same time I come to Him in His personal being. I speak to Him, and listen to Him, as I would to my earthly family. I am a member of the family of God; a joint heir with Christ.

So, I see as the first valid use of God's 'name', addressing Him directly for purposes related to prayer, praise, worship, thanksgiving, or petitioning. I might in some circumstances, call upon Him using the title 'Almighty God', or address Him as 'Almighty Father' or 'Father Almighty'.

In contrast, 'God almighty' is an expletive of amazement. It is in fact profane. It misuses the name of God. It also uses it in vain. You know what vain means. You try in vain to win the lottery. You try in vain to make someone love you. Life is filled with vain attempts. Maybe, like me, you tried in vain to teach yourself to play acoustic guitar, or ride a unicycle.

Using God's name in vain can be as simple as praying that He strike down your enemy with a bolt of lightning on the golf course. This is not going to come to pass on your request. Such a prayer is a vain attempt, or effort in vain, using God's name.

Referring to God in the Third Person

Throughout this monograph, the word 'God', as the name, or label, of the Deity, is used in the third person.

If I said to you, 'God Bless You', that sounds like a third person usage, but it is not. I am speaking to you, and also to God at the same time, asking that He bless you, and telling you that I am asking. If I said, 'May God bless you', I am only referring to Him for your benefit.

If I said 'God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food', I would be merely referring to Him while addressing others. This is a favorite prayer before meals for children. For them it is fine. For an informed adult, it is sort of meaningless. I do not believe it is exactly in vain, because God judges hearts, not appearances.

Using the exact same prayer, in a direct manner, you could say, "God, You are great, You are good, We thank You for our food." Hopefully, you can see the marked difference in these two uses of God's name. But, in the illustrations above, keep in mind that saying "Lord" or "The Lord" is a more personal form than is the label "God".

The single most vain misuse of the name of God, is to pray to Him, for any purpose, in a state of disbelief. I distinguish between disbelief and uncertainty. Surely, you can ask God such as, "Lord, if you will, draw my brother to yourself that he might be saved", not knowing whether in fact He will do so, or if your brother will respond. But you pray believing He will. To pray believing He will NOT, is most definitely vain usage.

  The Third / Fourth Commandment

Verses 8-11: 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 manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 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."

I grew up in a Roman Catholic family, and attended parochial schools. I was steeped in the short versions of these commands, as taught in the Baltimore Catechism. Using this command as a base, the organized church determined the Sabbath to be on Sunday, for various reasons.

You can read Saint Paul telling his churches to gather on the first day of the week, which is now Sunday. The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday, and ends at sundown on Saturday (when three stars become visible. I guess if it is heavily overcast, the Sabbath lasts until the next day?).

The aforementioned church took it upon itself, claiming authority from God, to create additional Holy Days of Obligation, on which members were compelled to attend church under pain of mortal sin; spiritual death. They also extended this to provide for making spiritual laws they deemed appropriate for the governance of the faithful.

You may know about some of these historical activities: burning at the stake of Joan of Arc, The Inquisition, Indulgences purchased with money, condemnation to eternal hell fire for eating meat on a day they said don't, unless you got a dispensation. It goes on and on. And on.

Are these the things the Lord meant when He issued the third commandment?

According to Jesus, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." [Mark 2:27-28].

During His earthly ministry, He had many run-ins with lawmakers over Sabbath issues. The text tells us no one is to do any 'work' on the Sabbath. Is the Sabbath a specific day of the week? There were no days and weeks during Creation. This method of labeling the phases of Creation is an arbitrary device by men who tried to tell the story of Creation. Until the earth, with its sun in place, actually formed and began cycling, there was no day and no night here.

The Sabbath is a period of rest from the labors associated with income production. If you will think about it, Sunday as observed by Christianity, spans the clock from midnight to midnight. The Israelites' Sabbath spanned sundown to sundown. Think about that.

They had all day Friday to do what needed to be done. Feeding livestock comes to mind, as that was there primary source of food and wealth. On Saturday, as soon as the sun set, they could light a lamp and see to their animals and any other needs.

If you work seven days per week, week in and week out, you are denying yourself a Sabbath, and in the end, you will pay with your health.

Here is a question for you. When God began Creation, which day of the modern seven day week, Sunday through Saturday, was the day on which He began? If you find the question absurd, good. You are thinking.

The Sabbath was made FOR man, not to prevent him from activity, but to give his REST from his required labors. The label name of the day of the week on which you honor the Sabbath is irrelevant, no matter what your Pastor says. Honoring the Sabbath, is resting, even withdrawing, from worldly pursuits and focusing on God. It is a time to think about your spiritual life instead of your worldly life.

I often 'work' in my garden on a Sunday. True, I am engaged in physical labor when I do this. But, my mind and heart are with my Lord, who has spoken more words into my mind while I was gardening, than any other time. He saw fit to place Adam in a garden for the purpose of tending it. There is no mention of Adam taking days off from the work of the garden. The Sabbath is one part of the covenant between God and the people He chose. If He has chosen you, and you have accepted Him, you surely want to spend one seventh of your waking hours in communion with Him by whatever means works for you.

  The Fourth / Fifth Commandment

Verse 12: "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

This command is in the transitional place between the Law relating to God, and the Law relating to other people. Those preceding it, are concerned with man's responsibilities toward God. The ones following this, concern interpersonal relationship.

Its location in the hierarchy of the Law, places it above murder.

Honor has a lot of modern meanings, nearly all of which relate to esteem and respect. When you honor someone, you give them your personal recognition of something about them of merit in your eyes.

When a member of the armed forces performs a meritorious deed, as judged by that world, he is honored, held in esteem, and this is signified by a medal declaring that he is honorable for having performed honorably within the scope of his duties.

When you call a judge 'Your Honor', though you may hate his guts, and hold him in the lowest possible esteem, you are conforming to the societal custom which dignifies his office with the title 'Honorable'. He could be a greedy, vicious, double dealing, scalawag; he still gets called honorable. Hollow isn't it?

Among Orientals there has been, and may still be, a custom of addressing or referring to a parent as 'honorable father'. A good custom. I have spent decades coming to terms with my judgments about my parents and what I saw as their failings. God's Holy Spirit has, over time, shown me how to honor them in memory and with thanksgiving. Too bad for me I didn't learn this fifty or sixty years ago. My life would have been happier had I lived with a different attitude about my parents.

I realize a drunken wife beater (not my father), or a mother who is a drug addicted prostitute (not my mother), is not someone you can easily honor. Their behaviors make them undeserving of admiration. If they are living, you can pray for them, asking God to lead them out of their darkness. I know I don't have all the answers.

I do know this is the only command with a proviso attached. God promises long life on earth to those who honor their parents. I believe to honor them means to speak well of them, if you can; to try to honor (fulfill) their needs as you are able; give them your affection, time, and personal service, according to your ability.

God has others reasons for commanding you to honor your parents. Your parents are the source of your knowledge foundation ... the first things you learn. If you were blessed with parents of faith, you honor them by following their precepts. You develop your character by modeling them.

But there is more. If humans had historically honored their parents, every new generation of parents would teach their children in like manner. This happens regardless. Ignorance begets ignorance. Violence begets violence. Everything multiplies after its own kind.

For humans to live in a state of peacefulness, order must prevail. Honorable parents are the source of social order. In the same way, honorless parents are the source of disorder.

  The Fifth / Sixth Commandment

Verse 13: "You shall not murder."

This command is straightforward and perfectly plain on the face of it, unless you want to dispute the meaning of the word 'murder', or the word so translated.

The King James Version reads, "Thou shalt not kill."
The New King James reads, "You shall not murder."
The New American Bible reads, "You shall not murder."
The American Standard Bible reads, "You shall not kill."
The Amplified Bible reads, "You shall not commit murder."

From this sample, we have 60% murder, and 40% kill. Which is it?
In the Interlinear Scripture Analyzer, the AV (Authorized Version) reads in English "Thous shalt not kill", while the transliteral Hebrew reads 'la thrtzch' and is rendered in English as "not you-shall murder". Whereas the Hebrew clearly reads murder, you have to wonder why so many translators chose 'kill'. Could it be bias ... men know better than God what He means ?

In Leviticus God orders the penalty of death for numerous offenses. Execution is not regarded by God as murder, but justice.

Perhaps you have already noticed that the use of 'kill' is in the old translations, while 'murder' appears in modern translations. Only the very blind or foolish are holding on to translations made centuries ago from then extant scriptures. Since the days of the 1611 King James translation, much archaeological research has transpired. The more recent translations are based on older documents, and performed with greater knowledge of the common usage of the that day. Hence, they more accurately reflect the original meanings.

Lots of leftist thinkers are horrified when a violent criminal receives his well earned death sentence. They scream 'murderers' at the authorities. The media loves it. TV cameras show them outside a prison, crying and screaming, carrying on, etc.

These protesters have no idea what God said, much less what He meant. In God's view, murder is a specific, criminal, act. Killing is not. War for example. When you kill the enemy in armed combat, this is not regarded as murder; not even by the church at large. A few pacifist groups believe any taking of human life is murder, except for aborting a fetus at birth. That is simply a medical procedure at the whim of the wouldn't be mother and her state sanctioned accomplice, the doctor.

The distinction between murder, and death or killing as punishment, is exemplified in some verses. Remember, I told you the law goes on far longer than the Decalogue in Exodus 20. Without pausing for breath, God continues setting down laws. Here are a few from Exodus 21 for your amusement.

15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.
16 And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.
28 If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit. 29 But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.

Verse 29 makes me think about the woman who watched her vicious dogs kill a neighbor in her apartment building. Man's law put her behind bars. God's law would have put her out of our misery.

In other places, as God explains the details of the law, He gives the primary reason behind putting offenders to death. It is this: that evil might be rooted out of Israel. If every person guilty of extreme evil was instantly put to death, our world would be a lot better place. But men are smarter, more just, and more merciful than God, so they ignore His commands and substitute their own. We are immersed in the consequences.

Aside from my editorializing, it is plain from these verses of the law, that God did not forbid killing. He forbad murder. Furthermore, He ordered the destruction of pagan tribes by Israel. Long before Abraham and Moses, He oversaw the destruction of the entire human population, except Noah's family. His reason? The earth was filled with violence. In later days, fire rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah, killing all in those cities. He said He would do it and He did.

  The Sixth / Seventh Commandment

Verse 14: "You shall not commit adultery."

Do you know what adultery is?
Sure you do. Below is the penalty.

Leviticus 20:10 NKJV 'The man who commits adultery with another man's wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.

Leviticus 20:10 NIV " 'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife — with the wife of his neighbor — both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.

Notice that the label is gender specific; adulterer and adulteress. The law, as stated here, makes no provision for a married man who has intercourse with a woman who is not another's wife. Only a married woman could be an adulteress. An unmarried woman could be a fornicator, or prostitute. A man was guilty of adultery only if he had sexual congress with a married woman. The penalty was death for both of them.

This is in contrast to the law given in Exodus which flatly prohibits adultery. The issue is what constitutes adultery. We know from the New Testament that adulteresses were stoned, but we never heard of an adulterer being stoned. If this command was scrupulously followed, would there be any descendants of Jacob on the earth?

Question. What possible interest could the sovereign Lord have in whether or not married people cheat on their spouses?

Here are some possibilities:

1. The spread of venereal diseases.
2. The disruption of family structures.
3. Creation of enmity between cuckolded men.

The command is placed between murder and theft, so it ranks high on God's list of 'don'ts'. Back in Genesis, it is said that because of the bond God made between the man and the woman, a man would leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and the two became one flesh.

Like murder, adultery destroys human life.

If you have had the experience of losing a beloved mate through death, divorce, or desertion, you may have some idea of what it feels like to have one half of yourself ripped off. Knowledge of adultery can produce in the injured partner the same kind of terrible sundering of the spirit. Ofttimes it is irreparable. God intended mankind live in peace on earth until his days were finished. Adultery destroys the harmony of life. In our times, 2001, adultery is regarded merely as an 'affair'. Imagine if God's Law was being obeyed.

  The Seventh / Eighth Commandment

Verse 15: "You shall not steal."

Obvious, isn't it?
Theft deprives an owner of his rights to, and use of, his property. In an age of material plenty, petty thieves are not apprehended, or even pursued by police. In the time the commands were given, what any person possessed was essentially the means of livelihood. Life was lived on a very basic level. Livestock would have been the most valuable of all possessions.

As late as twentieth century America, in our western states, cattle theft, or rustling, was a crime for which a rustler could be killed on the spot and that be considered justice. Is stealing another's money, the modern equivalent of tradable livestock, any different? No. Stealing the affections of another's spouse is just as evil. Taking of anything not legitimately belonging to oneself, is stealing.

Some theologians have expanded the meaning to include cheating. When one copies answers on an examination, one is stealing from the person who earned the right to use the correct answer. One is also stealing from, and lying to, the broader society by representing himself as something he is not; claiming an honor to which he is not entitled, even if it is only a passing grade of D.

Have you ever been mugged or burgled?
It feels like being violated. Someone has invaded your sanctum and taken what is yours. It may not matter what the monetary value of the stolen matter is. It could be expensive, or irreplaceable, and insured. It could also be a memento of great meaning but no commercial value. It all feels the same. It produces in the victim not only a sadness, and feeling of helplessness, but also a desire for revenge.

  The Eighth / Ninth Commandment

Verse 16: "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor."

Do you recall hearing about the Salem Witch Trials? This was a classic example of what false testimony, or witness, can yield. People burned to death, or drowned in judgment by trial, and other unspeakable horrors perpetrated on the basis of lying witnesses. "She caused my cow to give curdled milk", could result in a death sentence.

Satan was having a field day in Massachusetts in the late 1600s. The people doing the judging were so-called Christians. False witness is so heinous, modern criminal law provides stiff penalties for perjury, or lying under oath.

Some will say that the command prohibits lying. Jesus affirmed this view. The command is specific to the matter of testifying falsely against another. Again, an effort to school men so to prevent social disruption.

If you want to be literal, you could say, "Well okay. I'll limit my false testimonies to strangers; no neighbors." Beyond the letter of the law, is he spirit of the law. To willfully lie is sinful because it is contrary to the nature of God, who made man in His own image.

No doubt there are times when not revealing a thing, though it be true, is better than revealing it. For example, telling your neighbor that you saw his or her spouse in illicit sex with another, might be true, but it is not productive. To not volunteer such information is certainly no lie.

In the event the same neighbor came to you and asked point blank if you knew about the illicit relationship, what are your options? I perceive that to deny your knowledge is to willfully deceive, but I believe that is a far different thing from bearing a false witness against either neighbor. We call those 'white lies'. There is also a way to skirt such an inquiry, like this, "If I knew about it, I would not tell you, so I simply won't answer your question either way." They can make what they will of it. It won't help them much, but it will keep you in truth. By the way ... every parent who tells their child Santa Claus brings them gifts is a liar. But I believe it fails the test of false testimony against a person.

Have you any idea how many innocent people, men mostly, are incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. The numbers are staggering. Visit the web site of the Innocence Project. It is shocking and demoralizing. Most of the cases were convicted on false, or errant but not malicious, testimony. DNA proof is what gets some released.

Lying to protect yourself from legal consequences is enshrined in our U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment. You can refuse to answer any question from authorities, the answer to which might tend to incriminate you. But God knows.

  The Ninth / Tenth Commandment

[in some traditions 9 & 10 are combined as 10, in others, coveting a wife is separated from the rest of the verses and made 9].

Verse 17: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

Covet means to desire with a lust, something belonging to another. I believe covetousness is condemned because of what it does to the spirit in a person. A lot of rationalization usually attends coveting. "He doesn't deserve all that". "She has gorgeous jewelry and I should have it, not her". "I want to get his wife in bed so bad I can taste it".

Allowing such desires to foment leads to actions, if not insanity. There is no motivation to commit adultery, or steal, if one does not covet. The barrier against covetousness is a safeguard given for man to help him cope with fleshly desires.

"But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." [Matthew 5:28 NKJV]

  The Greatest Commandment

"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." [Matthew 22: 36-40 NIV]>

When you read what Jesus taught, and compare it with the Decalogue, you see how right he was.

If you love the Lord your God as He describes, you have no difficulty with the first three commandments. In fact, it will not occur to you to consider violating any of them.

If you love your neighbor as you love yourself, you would not wish him to suffer any of the things in fourth through tenth commands, just as you do not wish to be a victim yourself. In fact, you would hope he might not endure any of the misfortunes resulting from others violations.


This concludes my examination of the Decalogue and my attempt to dissect it. Shown below are the full passages of the Law, stripped of footnotes and references. You can examine the originals online at

In conclusion, I wish to appropriate words given by King David, a man God said was after His own heart. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." [Psalm 119:105]. God's Word shows us the way.

  The Ten Commandments in Exodus 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 [a] me.

4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol 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 fathers 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 manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 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 manservant or maidservant, 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."

  The Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5

1 Moses summoned all Israel and said: Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. 2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3 It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. 4 The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. 5 (At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:

6 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

7 "You shall have no other gods before [a] me.

8 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 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 fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

11 "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

12 "Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 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 manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

16 "Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

17 "You shall not murder.

18 "You shall not commit adultery.

19 "You shall not steal.

20 "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

21 "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor's house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

22 "These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me. "

  Monograph End

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