Characteristics of the Decalogue
Exodus 20:1-2
And God spoke all these words, saying,…

The Law of the Ten Words constitutes the very heart or kernel of the entire Mosaic system. It was the Law which lent to Mosaism its peculiar character as a temporary interlude in the history of revelation.


II. THE SANCTION OF THE DECALOGUE WAS FEAR. In the infancy of the individual, when as yet the immature, conscience lacks the power to enforce its convictions of duty upon the untutored passions, the first step in moral training consists in impressing upon the child's mind a wholesome dread for the constituted authorities of the home. Love is a preferable impulse to law-keeping, no doubt; but love cannot be wholly depended on till the habit of obedience has been formed and principle has come to the aid of affection.

III. It belongs to the same juvenile or primary character of this code, as designed for an infant people, THAT ITS REQUIREMENTS ARE CONCRETE, AND EXPRESSED IN A NEGATIVE OR PROHIBITORY FORM. When you have to deal with children, you do not enunciate principles but precepts. You do not bid a child revere all that is venerable in the social order; but you say: "Honour thy father and mother." You do not tell a rude populace that hatred drives God out of the soul, but you say simply: "Do not kill!" Everything must be, at such a stage of moral education, concrete, portable, and unmistakable. For the same reason, it will usually take the shape of a prohibition rather than of a command: a "Do not rather than a Do."

IV. While these remarks must be borne in mind if we would understand the archaic mould in which this code is cast, there is at the same time AN ADMIRABLE BREADTH AND MASSIVENESS ABOUT ITS CONTENTS. In Ten Words it succeeds in sweeping the whole field of duty.

V. I have assumed above — what is indeed apparent to every careful reader — THAT THE DECALOGUE WAS DESIGNED PRIMARILY TO BE THE CODE OF A COMMONWEALTH. In the ancient world, and perhaps in the infancy of all societies, the idea of the community takes precedence over the idea of the individual. The family, the clan, the tribe, the nation: these are the ruling conceptions to which the interests of the private individual are subordinated. Then, each man exists as one of a larger body — heir of its past and parent of its future.

VI. It is when one views the Decalogue under this aspect, that one can best see how it came to include two parts, A SACRED AND A CIVIL. In a theocracy there can be no such sharp distinction as we make between Church and State. Indeed, such a distinction would have been unintelligible to any ancient people. So far from comprehending the modern ideal of "a free Church in a free State," every people of antiquity took for granted that the Church and the State were one. Every public function was discharged, every expedition undertaken, every victory gained, under the immediate counsel and patronage of the Deity. All this was just as strongly felt by the devotees of Bel or Nebo, of Osiris, Chemosh or Baal, of Athene or Jove, as by the Hebrew worshippers of Jehovah. So that, again, when it pleased God to throw into the form of a theocracy His peculiar relationship to Israel as a vehicle for teaching to the world a world-wide revelation of grace, He was simply accommodating His gracious ways to the thoughts of men and the fashions of the age that then was.

(J. O. Dykes, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And God spake all these words, saying,

WEB: God spoke all these words, saying,

I am the Lord Thy God -- a Word to Rest on in Death
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