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Moses 23 – A Holy God And A Holy Law


Are your parents still alive? Were they perfect? Did they care for you?

Did they disappoint you? What does the Bible teach concerning our attitude towards them?

Verse 12 Honour your father and your mother: that your days may be long on the land which the LORD your God gives you.

Having covered in the first four commandments our duties toward God, we now take up the second table of the law, dealing with duties toward our fellows (Matt. 22:34–40).

Inasmuch as prior to the age of moral accountability parents stand to their children as the representatives of God (PP 308), it is logical and fitting that our first man-ward duty should be toward them (Deut. 6:6, 7; Eph. 6:1–3; Col. 3:20).

Another purpose of this commandment is to engender respect for all rightful authority.

Such respect begins with the attitude of children toward their parents. In the mind of the child this becomes the basis for respect and obedience owed to those who are legitimately placed in authority over him throughout life, particularly in the church and in the state (Rom. 13:1–7; Heb. 13:17; 1 Peter 2:13–18).

There is included in the spirit of this commandment the thought that those in authority in the home and outside of it should so conduct themselves that they are ever worthy of the respect and obedience of those under them (Eph. 6:4, 9; Col. 3:21; 4:1).

Exodus 20:13 You shall not kill.

Any rightful understanding of our relation to our neighbor indicates that we must respect and honor his life, for all life is sacred (Gen. 9:5, 6).

Jesus magnified (Isa. 42:21) this commandment to include anger and contempt (Matt. 5:21, 22).

Later the apostle John added hatred (1 John 3:14, 15). Not only does this commandment forbid violence to the body, but, what is of far greater consequence, injury to the soul.

We break it when we lead others into sin by our example and action, and thus contribute to the destruction of their souls.
Those who corrupt the innocent and seduce the virtuous “kill” in a far worse sense than the cutthroat and the bandit, in that they do more than to kill the body (Matt. 10:28).

Verse 14 You shall not commit adultery.

This prohibition covers not only adultery but fornication and impurity of any and every kind in act, word, and thought (Matt. 5:27, 28).

This, our third duty toward our “neighbour,” is to respect and honor the bond upon which the family is built, that of the marriage relationship, which to the Christian is as precious as life itself (see Heb. 13:4).

Marriage makes the husband and wife “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). To be untrue to this sacred union or to lead another to do so is to despise that which is sacred and to commit a crime as well.

Throughout human history it has not generally been considered a grievous offense for the husband to become an adulterer.

If, however, the wife did so, she has been dealt with most severely. Society speaks of the “fallen woman,” but little is said of the “fallen man.” The commandment applies with equal force to both husband and wife (Heb. 13:4; Rev. 21:8).

Verse 15 You shall not steal.

Here the right to possess property is set forth, a right that is to be respected by others. For society to exist at all, this principle must be safeguarded, else there is no security and no protection. All would be anarchy.

This commandment forbids any act by which, directly or indirectly, we dishonestly obtain the goods of another.

Especially in these days when the keen edge of morality is becoming increasingly dull, it is well to remember that adulteration, the concealment of defects, misrepresentation of quality, and the employment of false weights or measures are all the acts of a thief as much as pocket picking or shoplifting.

Employees steal when they take a “commission” unknown to their superiors. When they appropriate that which has not been expressly agreed upon, or neglect to do whatever work they contracted to do, or perform it in a slovenly manner, or damage the owner’s property through carelessness or diminish it by waste.
Employers steal when they withhold from their employees the benefits they promised, or allow their wages to fall into arrears, or force them to work overtime without proper remuneration, or deprive them of any other consideration they have a reasonable right to expect.

They steal who conceal goods from a customs inspector or misrepresent them in any way, or who make out false or misleading tax returns.

Who cheat tradesmen by incurring debts that they can never repay, or who in view of impending bankruptcy turn over their property to a friend, with the understanding that it is later to be restored, or who have recourse to any so-called tricks of trade.

Except for those possessed by the spirit of honesty, those who love justice, equity, and fair dealing, those who make it their law of life to do for others as they would that others should do to them, all men will, in one way or another, defraud their “neighbour.”

We may steal from others in more subtle ways. For instance robbing them of their faith in God through doubt and criticism. Also through the shattering effect of a bad example when otherwise trusted, by confusing and perplexing them by statements they are not prepared to understand, by pernicious, slanderous gossip that may deprive them of their good name and character.

Whatever withholds from another that which is rightfully his, or appropriates to one’s own use that which is another’s—this is stealing. To accept credit for the labors or ideas of another, to use that which is his without his permission, or to take advantage of another in any way—this too is stealing.

Verse 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour

This commandment may be transgressed in a public manner by untruthful witness borne in a court of law (ch. 23:1). Perjury has ever been considered a serious offense against society, and has been punished accordingly.

In Athens a false witness was heavily fined. If convicted thrice of this crime, he lost his civil rights.

In Rome a law of the Twelve Tables sentenced the transgressor to be hurled headlong from the Tarpeian Rock.

In Egypt the penalty was amputation of the nose and ears.

This prohibition of the Decalogue is frequently violated by speaking evil of another, whereby his character is blackened, his motives misrepresented, and his reputation depreciated.

All too many find it dull and tame to praise and speak well of their fellows. They find a vicious thrill in pointing out flaws in the conduct of others, judging their motives, and criticizing their endeavors.

Since, unfortunately, many are ever ready and eager to listen to this supposed wisdom, the thrill is increased and the selfish, sinful ego of the detractor is enhanced.

This commandment may also be broken by those who remain silent when they hear an innocent man unjustly maligned. It can be broken by a shrug of the shoulder or by an arching of the eyebrows.

Whoever tampers in any way with the exact truth, in order to gain personal advantage or for any other purpose, is guilty of bearing “false witness.” The suppression of truth that might result in injury to oneself or others—this too is bearing “false witness.”

Verse 17 You shall not covet your neighbour’s house, you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is your neighbour’s.

The tenth commandment strikes at the very root of all sins, prohibiting the selfish desire, from which springs the sinful act. He who in obedience to God’s law refrains from indulging even a sinful desire for that which belongs to another will not be guilty of an act of wrong toward his fellow creatures. PP 309

The tenth commandment is supplementary to the eight, for covetousness is the root from which theft grows. In fact, the tenth commandment strikes at the roots of the other nine. It represents a decided advance beyond the morality of any other ancient code.

Most codes went no further than the deed, and a few took speech into account, but none proposed to regulate the thoughts.

This prohibition is fundamental to human experience in that it penetrates to the motive behind the outward act.

It teaches us that God sees the heart (1 Sam. 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chron. 28:9; Heb. 4:13), and is concerned less with the outward act than with the thought from which the action springs.

It establishes the principle that the very thoughts of our hearts come under the jurisdiction of God’s law, that we are as responsible for them as for our actions.

The wrong thought entertained promotes a wrong desire, which in time gives birth to a wrong action (Prov. 4:23; James 1:13–15).

A man may refrain from adultery because of the social and civil penalties that follow such transgressions, yet in Heaven’s sight he may be as guilty as if he actually committed the deed (Matt. 5:28).

This basic commandment reveals the profound truth that we are not the helpless slaves of our natural desires and passions.

Within us is a force, the will, which, under the control of Christ, can submerge every unlawful desire and passion (Phil. 2:13).

It sums up the Decalogue by affirming that man is essentially a free moral agent.

Verse 18 And all the people saw the thunder, and the lightning, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.

They removed.

More accurately, “they trembled.” The terrors of Sinai—the thunderings, the lightnings, the noise of the trumpet, the smoking mountain, the cloud and the voice speaking out of it—inspired the people with holy fear (Deut. 5:23–31).

Verses 19,20 And they said to Moses, Speak you with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
And Moses said to the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that you sin not.

Moses pacified the people with the calm assurance that they need have no fear. It was God’s purpose to impress indelibly upon their minds a concept of His majesty and power, as a restraint from sinning.

The Israelites were still dull in their comprehension of God, and consequently needed the discipline of fear until such a time as they were ready to be guided by the tender voice of love.

Verse 21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

As the people withdrew, probably to the doors of their tents, Moses drew near to God.

In contrast to the fear of his fellow Israelites, which drove them from God, the servant of the Lord, in the boldness of faith and consecration, was attracted to the Lord.

Where God was, he would be. Some, because of their sinful condition, are repelled by the divine presence; others because of their upright heart find their highest satisfaction in fellowship with their Creator (Matt. 8:34; Luke 4:42; Job 23:3; Ps. 42:1, 2).

Men who have greatly transgressed, and who therefore cannot help but see God as “a revenger to execute wrath” and a “consuming fire” (Rom. 13:4; Heb. 12:29), often lose sight of the more tender attributes of God and cease to feel that He is their Father, “merciful and gracious” (Ex. 34:6; Ps. 86:15; 103:13).

Verse 22 And 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.

With this verse begins the “book of the covenant” (ch. 24:7), which closes with ch. 23.

It is a detailed enlargement upon the principles contained in the Decalogue, and is composed of various civil, social, and religious laws.

From ch. 24:4, 7 we are led to believe that these laws, received by Moses at Sinai immediately after the delivery of the Ten Commandments, were put in writing and collected into a book, known as “the book of the covenant,” which was considered especially holy.

Following the order of the Decalogue, the first and foremost laws are those having to do with the worship of God (vs. 23–26).

Next come laws respecting the rights of persons (ch. 21:1–32), beginning with the rights of slaves and ending with the compensation to be made for injuries to persons caused by cattle.

The third section has to do with rights of property (ch. 21:33 to 22:15). The remaining part of the “book” gives miscellaneous laws, some concerned with divine affairs, some with human affairs generally related to the civil organization of the state.

This code contains some 70 distinct laws.

Verse 22 And 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.

This is a significant reminder that the Author of these civil laws is the same one who spoke the Ten Commandments amid the thunders of Sinai.

Verse 23 You shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall you make to you gods of gold.

Why this repetition of the prohibition of the second commandment? Because of the rampant idolatry of the time.

How strong this idolatrous pressure was is shown by the fact that when the people thought Moses had deserted them they forthwith made themselves a golden calf (ch. 32).

But “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24). That they might not worship Him through material representations, He remained invisible as He spoke from the cloud on Mt. Sinai (Deut. 4:12).

Verse 24 An altar of earth you shall make to me, and shall sacrifice thereon your burnt offerings, and your peace offerings, your sheep, and your oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come to you, and I will bless you.

Altars were essential to the religious of antiquity. They were often made of earth, sod, or stones collected on the spot. The patriarchal altars were probably of this kind (Gen. 8:20; 12:7; 13:18; 22:9).

It was now ordered that the same usage continue, for the reason that elaborate altars of “hewn stone” would encourage idolatry, since the images that might be engraved upon the altars would become objects of worship.

The burnt offering symbolized personal consecration and self-surrender (Lev. 6:8–13; Ps. 51:16–19), and the peace offering renewed fellowship with God and expressed thankfulness (Lev. 7:11–34). Although we have passed the day of material offerings such as these, we are still invited by God to render unto Him “spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5) of self-surrender (Rom. 12:1), of a “broken spirit” (Ps. 51:17, and of joy and thanksgiving (Ps. 27:6; 107:22).

Verse 25 And if you will make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone: for if you lift up your tool on it, you have polluted it.

In cases where, notwithstanding the divine preference of the previous verse, the people would erect a more permanent and honorable altar of stone, God required that the stones be left in their rough, natural state.

God forbids the elaborate carving of the altars with objects that might woo them to idolatry. The altar is an expression of God’s will. Try to improve it, and it becomes instead an expression of the will of the would-be improver.

The altar of self is not the altar of God. Sacrifices offered upon it may satisfy the worshiper; they cannot be pleasing to God. Our prayers would have a better chance of reaching heaven if they came from a contrite heart at the foot of the pillar

Verse 26 Neither shall you go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not discovered thereon.

The detailed instructions God gave Israel concerning the manner in which they were to worship Him point to the important fact that nothing is unimportant in His sight.

After the break we will continue the study of God’s incredible love for sinners

Updated on 21st Mar 2022

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