12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that 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 bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” – Exodus 20:12-17 ESV
The book of 2 Chronicles records Solomon’s dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. He had spent years supervising the construction of this magnificent structure that was to serve as the dwelling place of God on earth.
“I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.” – 2 Chronicles 6:2 ESV
But Solomon understood that the God of the universe could not be contained in a structure built by human hands – no matter how glorious and opulent it may be. So, he asked God to honor the temple by answering the prayers of all those who view it as a symbol of His glory and greatness.
“But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you, that your eyes may be open day and night toward this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” – 2 Chronicles 6:18-21 ESV
On that auspicious occasion, God gave His visible approval of Solomon’s beautiful creation by filling it with His glory (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). Then He made Solomon a promise.
“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:12-14 ESV
God reminded Solomon that the people of Israel bore His name. They were His representatives on earth and, as such, they were to honor Him by the way they lived their lives. But His people had a track record of disobedience and rebellion. They found it difficult to live in keeping with His will and in compliance with His law; a problem that extended all the way back to Mount Sinai. Ever since God gave His law to Moses, the people of Israel had revealed their inability to live up to its exacting standards. And yet, each of the laws found in the Decalogue was intended to help differentiate the people of Israel from the rest of humanity. They alone bore God’s name and their adherence to His law was intended to set them apart as a one-of-a-kind nation that shared a totally unique relationship with Him.
The laws God gave them were not disciplinary or punitive. They were a reflection of His divine character and provided insights into His priorities concerning mankind. They reveal God’s divine perspective on the human condition. That’s why six of the ten commandments are horizontal in their emphasis, dealing with the interactions between God’s people.
In the fifth commandment, God places a high priority on authority, demanding that His people show proper respect and honor to their parents. The family unit was God’s idea and He created it with a hierarchical structure that served as a model of His own role as the Heavenly Father. Just as He gave life to all humanity, the father and mother were the means by which children came into the world. And as God’s co-creators, they were worthy of honor. A child who refuses to live in obedience to his parents will find it difficult to submit to the will of a God he cannot see.
The apostle Paul reiterated this command in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.
Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” – Ephesians 6:1-3 ESV
It is essential that children learn to live in submission to God-ordained authority if they are going to be contributing members of God’s family. Learning to obey begins at home. Household rules are the foundational platform for teaching obedience to God’s law. A child who refuses to obey and honor his parents will find it impossible to submit to the will of God.
It is interesting to note that the very next commandment prohibits murder – the willful taking of innocent human life. This appears to reflect back on the very first family God created. Adam and Eve produced two sons, Cain and Abel, and it was not long after sin entered the world, that Cain made the fateful decision to murder his brother. Motivated by jealousy and driven by a desire for self-determination, Cain decided to play god and take the life of his brother. In doing so, he took that which did not belong to him. He robbed Abel of life and stole glory from God, who is the giver of life.
The next command continues the theme of taking that which does not belong to you. In this case, it deals with adultery, the sin of taking another man’s wife. With this command, God is displaying His high regard for the institution of marriage and all covenantal relationships. Adultery reveals a blatant disregard for that which God deems binding and unbreakable. Jesus would echo His Father’s words when addressing the issue of divorce in His own day.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” – Matthew 19:5-6 ESV
It is not a coincidence that God used the sin of adultery to describe the unfaithfulness of His own people, declaring, “Have you seen what fickle Israel has done? Like a wife who commits adultery, Israel has worshiped other gods on every hill and under every green tree” (Jeremiah 3:6 NLT). Infidelity would become a regular and recurring problem for the Israelites – within their marriage relationships but also in terms of their faithlessness to God.
Again, the eighth commandment carries a prohibition against taking that which does not belong to you. This time the context is stealing the property of others. Theft shows a disregard for the other person’s rights and reveals a lack of faith in the providential care of God. To take what belongs to another is to say that God has not provided for your needs. An Israelite who would steal from one of his brothers or sisters was giving evidence of a lack of faith in God. The apostle James describes the real problem behind the act of theft.
You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:2-3 NLT
The ninth commandment prohibits the taking of someone else’s reputation. To bear false witness is to spread inaccurate and damaging information about another person designed to question their integrity and destroy their name. It is hateful and harmful. It is to purposefully spread lies about another person with the intent to rob them of honor and esteem in the eyes of others. This was the very sin God accused His people of in the book of Ezekiel.
“I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 NLT
The people of Israel had robbed God of glory by questioning and doubting His integrity and honor. Their behavior demonstrated their lack of trust in His goodness and greatness. Their actions were a form of bearing false witness, making false statements about the faithfulness of God that questioned His power and provision.
The last of the ten commandments deals with the problem of coveteousness. At the core of coveteousness is a lack of contentment. Coveteousness is an obsessive desire to possess what God has not provided. That which we covet is not a legitimate need but a self-determined want that we demand to be fulfilled at all costs. The focus here is less on the external act than the motivation behind it. Coveteousness displays a lack of faith in God’s provision. Seeing someone who has been blessed with a spouse, a house, an asset, or anything else of value, and demanding that those things be yours, is to question the integrity and goodness of God. It accuses God of favoritism, inequity, and injustice.
Ultimately, all of these commands point back to God. The interrelational aspect they describe has far more to do with the Israelites’ views of God than anything else. The manner in which they treated one another would be a direct reflection of their understanding of God and their relationship with Him. He was calling them to a life of holiness that was intended to illustrate His own set-apart status. They were to be holy as He is holy. They were to reflect His character by valuing what He valued and holding in high esteem those things that were near and dear to His heart.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.