In our study of Exodus chapter twenty, we see how the people of Israel rejected the offer of a personal worship experience and settled for worship on an altar.
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Then God said all these words: "I am ADONAI your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery.
In the Hebrew text, the name Elohim is used and any time that name is used for God it speaks of judgement and in what follows we are going to see God's judgment of what is truth. Then, God starts with calling us to remember the redemption of Israel from bondage in Egypt and that reminds us that redemption comes before obedience to the law. We do not obey to be redeemed but we obey because we are redeemed.
"You are to have no other gods before me. You are not to make for yourselves a carved image or any kind of representation of anything in heaven above, on the earth beneath or in the water below the shoreline. You are not to bow down to them or serve them; for I, ADONAI your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but displaying grace to the thousandth generation of those who love me and obey my mitzvot.
In this passage we see the prohibition of idolatry which is worshipping anything but the one true God. We also see that sin expresses hatred towards God and it is passed on through the generations. Finally, we see that obedience to God's commands expresses our love for Him and it is stronger than sin as it is passed on to a thousand generations.
"You are not to use lightly the name of ADONAI your God, because ADONAI will not leave unpunished someone who uses his name lightly.
We are called to show proper respect for the name of God and this not only refers to swearing but also to using the name of God in reference to a false god.
"Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work -not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, ADONAI made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why ADONAI blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.
This passage speaks of Shabbat which is from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday and it is a day of rest and fellowship with God. The passage begins with remember and, when we see that, we should think of the covenant with Avraham and the blessings that are promised through that covenant. Keeping Shabbat demonstrates that God is the priority in our lives and we see that the head of the home or property is to enforce it for all who enter his property.
"Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land which ADONAI your God is giving you.
This verse is widely misunderstood as saying that, if you honor your mother and father, then, you will live a long life but that is not what the Hebrew text is saying. What it is saying is that we are a reflection of our parents and our children are a reflection of us. When we honor our mother and father by being obedient to God, then we are a godly family and, when a nation is made up of godly families, that nation honors God and will be preserved by God. The verse is speaking of the fact that when Israel obeys God they will remain in the land but when their disobedience reaches a certain level they will be sent into exile.
"Do not murder." "Do not commit adultery." "Do not steal." "Do not give false evidence against your neighbor." "Do not covet your neighbor's house; do not covet your neighbor's wife, his male or female slave, his ox, his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
While the previous commandments speak of demonstrating our love for God, these speak of loving our fellow man and treating them in a loving manner. The last one, coveting, is widely misunderstood as not desiring the things that a neighbor has but that is not what is being said. What this is saying about coveting is that you strongly desire to take what your neighbor has for yourself. You not only want to have the same thing you want to take it from them so that they are denied the pleasure of having it.
All the people experienced the thunder, the lightning, the sound of the shofar, and the mountain smoking. When the people saw it, they trembled. Standing at a distance, they said to Moshe, "You, speak with us; and we will listen. But don't let God speak with us, or we will die." Moshe answered the people, "Don't be afraid, because God has come only to test you and make you fear him, so that you won't commit sins." So the people stood at a distance, but Moshe approached the thick darkness where God was.
Here, we see that all of the people witnessed the approaching of God and heard the commandments being spoken but they were confused and divided with some wanting to approach while others did not so they stood back. God was approaching them but they were afraid because they realized that they were unholy and their fear was that the holiness of God would consume them. Their solution was to have Moshe be a go between between them and God but Moshe explained that the purpose for God coming to meet them was so that they would be supernaturally transformed and blessed with the wisdom of God. They were going to be afraid but it was going to be a godly fear that kept them from sin and made them holy but they rejected this and were united in their rejection as they all stood at a distance and Moshe went forward to meet with God.
ADONAI said to Moshe, "Here is what you are to say to the people of Isra'el: 'You yourselves have seen that I spoke with you from heaven. You are not to make with me gods of silver, nor are you to make gods of gold for yourselves. For me you need make only an altar of earth; on it you will sacrifice your burnt offerings, peace offerings, sheep, goats and cattle. In every place where I cause my name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you. If you do make me an altar of stone, you are not to build it of cut stones; for if you use a tool on it, you profane it. Likewise, you are not to use steps to go up to my altar; so that you won't be indecently uncovered.'"
The people had rejected the idea of having the same worship experience that Moshe had with God and so God gave Moshe instructions for a lesser form of worship at an altar. These instructions are concerned with the worship of God being different than the way the world worships their false gods. We see that it was not to be a fancy man made altar and the altar was to be approached with modesty and respect. We also see that this proper worship would result in blessing while any other worship would be considered profane which speaks of lacking or something missing which ultimately is that God will not bring blessing from worldly worship of Him.