The Moral Law - Preliminary
Exodus 20:1
And God spoke all these words, saying,…

The law given from Sinai is the moral law by pre-eminence. The principles which it embodies are of permanent obligation. It is a brief summary of the whole compass of our duty to God and man. It is a law of supreme excellence - "holy, just, and good" (Romans 7:12). God's own character is expressed in it; it bears witness to his unity, spirituality, holiness, sovereignty, mercy, and equity; truth and righteousness are visible in its every precept. Listening to its "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots," we cannot but recognise the same stern voice which speaks to us in our own breasts, addressing to us calls to duty, approving us in what is right, condemning us for what is wrong. These ten precepts, accordingly, are distinguished from the judicial and ceremonial statutes subsequently given -

(1) As the moral is distinguished from the merely positive;

(2) As the universally obligatory is distinguished from what is local and temporary;

(3) As the fundamental is distinguished from the derivative and secondary. The judicial law, e.g., not only draws its spirit, and derives its highest authority, from the law of the ten commandments, but is in its own nature, simply an application of the maxims of this law to the problems of actual government. Its binding force was confined to Israel. The ceremonial law, again, with its meats and drinks, its sacrifices, etc. bore throughout the character of a positive institution, and had no independent moral worth. It stood to the moral law in a triple relation of subordination -

(1) As inferior to it in its own nature.

(2) As designed to aid the mind in rising to the apprehension of the holiness which the law enjoined.

(3) As providing (typically) for the removal of guilt contracted by the breaking of the law. This distinctness of the "ten words" from the other parts of the law is evinced -


1. They alone were spoken by the voice of God from Sinai.

2. They were uttered amidst circumstances of the greatest magnificence and terror.

3. They alone were written on tables of stone.

4. They were written by God's own finger (Exodus 31:18). The rest of the law was communicated privately to Moses, and through him delivered to the people.


1. They are "the words of the Lord," as distinguished from the "judgments "or "rights" derived from them, and embraced with them in "the book of the covenant," as forming the statutory law of Israel (Exodus 24:3).

2. The tables on which they were written are - to the exclusion of the other parts of the law - called "the testimony" (Exodus 25:16), "the covenant" (Deuteronomy 4:13), "the words of the covenant" (Exodus 34:28), "the tables of testimony" (Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:15), "the tables of the covenant" (Deuteronomy 9:9-11).

3. The tables of stone, and they only, were placed in the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:21). They were thus regarded as in a special sense the bond of the covenant. The deposition of the tables in the ark, underneath the mercy seat, throws light on the nature of the covenant with Israel. The law written on the tables is the substratum of the covenant - its obligatory document - the bond; yet over the law is the mercy-seat, sprinkled with blood of propitiation - a testimony that there is forgiveness with God, that he may be feared (Psalm 130:4), that God will deal mercifully with Israel under this covenant. It is obvious, from these considerations, how fallacious is the statement that the Old Testament makes no distinction between the moral, juristic, and ceremonial parts of the law, but regards all as of equal dignity. - J.O.

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

WEB: God spoke all these words, saying,

The Moral Law - General Survey
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