With explanations by Adam Clarke
The Ten Commandments of God are moral in nature. They reflect the holiness of God and teach us what sin is. If we lived in a world that had no standard of right and wrong, we would be totally plunged into moral darkness.
v. 1 And God spake all these words, saying,
FIRST COMMANDMENT (vs. 2-3): I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
This commandment prohibits every species of mental idolatry and all inordinate attachment to earthly and sensible things. As God is the fountain of happiness, and no intelligent being can be happy but through Him, whoever seeks happiness in earthly things is necessarily an idolater; as he puts earthly things in the place of the Creator, expecting the gratification of his passions in the use or abuse of earthly things, which is to be found in God alone.
SECOND COMMANDMENT (vs. 4-6): Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
This commandment prohibits every species of external idolatry, as the first does all idolatry that may be called internal or mental. All false worship may be considered of this kind, together with all image worship and all other superstitious rites and ceremonies.
THIRD COMMANDMENT (v. 7): 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.
This precept not only forbids all false oaths, but all common swearing where the name of God is used, or where He is appealed to as a Witness of the truth. It also necessarily forbids all light and irreverent mention of God or any of his attributes; and we may safely add to all these, that every prayer, exclamation, etc., that is not accompanied with deep reverence and the genuine spirit of piety, is here condemned also.
FOURTH COMMANDMENT (vs. 8-11): Remember the sabbath day (day of rest), to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
He who idles away his time on any of the six days of the week is as guilty before God as he who works on the Sabbath. No work should be done on the Sabbath that can be done on the preceding days, or can be deferred to the succeeding ones; works of absolute necessity and mercy are alone excepted. He who works by his servants or cattle on the Sabbath is equally guilty as if he worked himself. The whole of it should be devoted to the rest of the body and the improvement of the mind. God says He has hallowed it. He has made it sacred and set it apart for the above purposes. It is therefore the most proper day for public religious worship.
NOTE: The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week but most Christians worship God publicly on the first day of the week, taking certain Scriptures in the New Testament as a basis for doing this. Let each person be fully persuaded in his or her mind regarding the day of rest and public worship.
FIFTH COMMANDMENT (v. 12): Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
This precept prohibits not only all injurious acts and irreverent and unkind speeches to parents, but enjoins all necessary acts of kindness, filial respect and obedience. We can hardly suppose that a man honors his parents, who, when they fall weak, blind or sick, does not exert himself to the utmost in their support.
SIXTH COMMANDMENT (v. 13): Thou shalt not kill.
This commandment prohibits murder of every kind. (1) All actions by which the lives of others may be shortened. (2) All wars for extending empire, commerce, etc. (3) All bloodthirsty laws, by the operation of which the lives of men may be taken away for offenses of comparatively trifling demerit. (4) All bad dispositions, which lead men to wish evil to, or meditate mischief against one another; for the Scripture says that he who hates his brother in his heart is a murderer (1 Jn. 3:15). (5) All lack of charity for the helpless and distressed; for he who has it in his power to save the life of another by a timely application of food, raiment, etc., and does not do it; and the life of the person either fails, or is shortened on this account, he is, in the sight of God, a murderer. He who neglects to save life is, according to an irrefutable maxim of law, the same as he who takes it away. (6) All riot and excess, all drunkenness and gluttony, all inactivity and slothfulness, and all superstitious mortifications and self-denials, by which life may be destroyed or shortened, are, in every respect, sins against the sixth commandment.
SEVENTH COMMANDMENT (v. 14): Thou shalt not commit adultery.
The act itself, and everything leading to the act, is prohibited by this commandment; for our Lord says, even he who looks at a woman to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt. 5:28). Not only adultery (the unlawful commerce between two married persons) is forbidden here, but also fornication and all kinds of mental and sensual uncleanness. All impure books, songs, paintings, etc., which tend to inflame and debauch the mind, are against this law.
EIGHTH COMMANDMENT (v. 15): Thou shall not steal.
All rapine and theft are forbidden by this precept, such as national and commercial wrongs, petty larceny, highway robberies and private stealing. Taking advantage of a seller’s or buyer’s ignorance (to give the one less and make the other pay more for a commodity than its worth) is a breach of this sacred law. All withholding of rights and doing of wrongs are against the spirit of this law. The word “steal” is principally applicable to clandestine stealing, though it may undoubtedly include all political injustice and private wrongs. Consequently, all kidnapping and slave-dealing are prohibited, whether done by individuals or by the state. It has been supposed that injuries done to the character of a man, thus depriving him of his reputation or good name, are included in the eighth commandment.
NINTH COMMANDMENT (v. 16): Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Not only false oaths, to deprive a man of his life or of his right are here prohibited, but all whispering, tale-bearing and slander — in a word, whatever is declared as a truth, which is false in fact, and tends to injure another in his goods, person or character, is against the spirit and letter of this law. Suppressing the truth, when known, by which a person may be defrauded of his property or his good name, or be under injuries or disabilities, which a discovery of the truth would have prevented, is also a crime against this law. The term “neighbor” includes any human being, whether he is our enemy or friend.
TENTH COMMANDMENT (v. 17): Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
“Covet” signifies to desire, or long after, in order to enjoy as a property the person or thing coveted. He breaks this command, who by any means endeavors to deprive a man of his house or farm; who lusts after his neighbor’s wife and endeavors to ingratiate himself into her affections, and to lessen her husband in her esteem; and who endeavors to possess the servants, cattle, etc., of another in any clandestine or unjustifiable manner. This is a most excellent moral precept, the observance of which will prevent all public crimes; for he who feels the force of this law, that prohibits the inordinate desire of any thing that is the property of another, can never break the peace of society by an act of wrong to anyone, even among its feeblest members.
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NOTE: The Bible says that all people have fallen short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness and holiness (Rom. 3:23). You can never earn God’s favor simply by keeping His commandments. God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to die for your sins. Because God loves you (but hates your sins), He made a way for you to have your sins forgiven through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. You must repent (turn away from all wrongdoing) and ask God, in the name of Jesus, to forgive your sins, and believe that He will forgive them. You will then be born again of God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit. This is a spiritual birth. The Holy Spirit will live in you and help you live a life that is truly pleasing to God.
“For by grace (undeserved mercy) are ye saved (forgiven) through faith (in Jesus); and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” – Eph. 2:8
Taken from Clarke’s Commentary of the Bible; condensed and revised. This tract may be reproduced and distributed.
NOTE: This article is also in French (Les Dix Commandements de Dieu).