Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
back to: Exodus
Book: Exodus
Chapter: 20

The preface to The Ten Commandments. (1,2) The Commandments of
the first table. (3-11) Of the second table. (12-17) The fear of
the people. (18-21) Idolatry again forbidden. (22-26)

1,2 God speaks many ways to the children of men; By Conscience,
By providences, By his voice, to all which we ought carefully to
attend; but he never spake at any time So as he spake the TEN
Commandments. This Law God had given to Man before; it was
written in his Heart; but Sin So defaced it, that it was
necessary to revive the knowledge of it. The Law is spiritual,
and takes knowledge of the secret thoughts, desires, and
dispositions of the Heart. Its grand demand is Love, without
which outward obedience is mere hypocrisy. It requires perfect,
unfailing, constant obedience; No Law in the world admits
disobedience to itself. Whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and
yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all, Jas 2:10.
Whether in the Heart or the conduct, in thought, Word, or deed,
to omit or to vary any thing, is Sin, and the Wages of Sin is

3-11 The first four of The Ten Commandments, commonly called
the FIRST table, tell our duty to God. It was fit that those
should be Put first, because Man had a Maker to Love, before he
had a neighbour to Love. It cannot be expected that he should be
true to his Brother, who is false to his God. The first
commandment concerns the object of Worship, Jehovah, and him
only. The Worship of creatures is here forbidden. Whatever comes
short of perfect Love, gratitude, reverence, or Worship, breaks
this commandment. Whatsoever ye do, do all to the Glory of God. The
second commandment refers to the Worship we are to render to the
Lord our God. It is forbidden to make any image or picture of
the Deity, in any form, or for any purpose; or to Worship any
Creature, image, or picture. But the spiritual import of this
command extends much further. All kinds of superstition are here
forbidden, and the using of mere human inventions in the Worship
of God. The third commandment concerns the manner of Worship,
that it be with all possible reverence and seriousness. All
false oaths are forbidden. All Light appealing to God, all
profane cursing, is a horrid Breach of this command. It matters
not whether the Word of God, or sacred things, all such-like
things break this commandment, and there is No profit, honour,
or pleasure in them. The Lord will not Hold him guiltless that
taketh his name in vain. The form of the fourth commandment,
"Remember," shows that it was not now first given, but was known
By the people before. One Day in Seven is to be kept holy. Six
days are allotted to worldly business, but not So as to neglect
the service of God, and the care of our souls. On those days we
must do all our work, and leave none to be done On the Sabbath
Day. Christ allowed Works of necessity, Charity, and Piety; for
the Sabbath was made for Man, and not Man for the Sabbath, Mr
2:27; but all Works of luxury, vanity, or self-indulgence in
any form, are forbidden. Trading, paying Wages, settling
accounts, Writing letters of business, worldly studies, trifling
visits, journeys, or Light Conversation, are not keeping this
Day holy to the Lord. Sloth and indolence may be a Carnal, but
not a holy Rest. The Sabbath of the Lord should be a Day of Rest
from worldly labour, and a Rest in the service of God. The
advantages from the due keeping of this holy Day, were it only
to the health and happiness of mankind, with the time it affords
for taking care of the soul, show the excellency of this
commandment. The Day is blessed; men are blessed By it, and in
it. The blessing and direction to keep holy are not limited to
the seventh Day, but are spoken of the Sabbath Day.

12-17 The laws of the SECOND table, that is, the last six of
The Ten Commandments, state our duty to ourselves and to one
another, and explain the great commandment, Thou shalt Love thy
neighbour as thyself, Lu 10:27. Godliness and honesty must go
together. The fifth commandment concerns the duties we owe to
our relations. Honour thy Father and thy mother, includes esteem
of them, shown in our conduct; obedience to their lawful
commands; come when they Call you, go where they send you, do
what they bid you, refrain from what they forbid you; and this,
as children, cheerfully, and from a principle of Love. Also
submission to their counsels and corrections. Endeavouring, in
every thing, to comfort parents, and to make their old Age easy;
maintaining them if they need support, which our Saviour makes
to be particularly intended in this commandment, Mt 15:4-6.
Careful observers have noted a Peculiar blessing in temporal
things On obedient, and the reverse On disobedient children. The
sixth commandment requires that we regard the Life and the
safety of others as we do our own. Magistrates and their
officers, and witnesses testifying the Truth, do not break this
command. Self-defence is lawful; but much which is not deemed
Murder By the laws of Man, is such before God. Furious passions,
stirred up By Anger or By drunkenness, are No excuse: more
guilty is Murder in duels, which is a horrible effect of a
haughty, revengeful Spirit. All fighting, whether for Wages, for
renown, or out of Anger and malice, breaks this command, and the
bloodshed therein is Murder. To tempt men to vice and crimes
which shorten Life, may be included. Misconduct, such as may
break the Heart, or shorten the lives of parents, wives, or
other relatives, is a Breach of this command. This command
forbids all envy, malice, Hatred, or Anger, all provoking or
insulting language. The Destruction of our own lives is here
forbidden. This commandment requires a Spirit of kindness,
longsuffering, and forgiveness. The seventh commandment concerns
chastity. We should be as much afraid of that which defiles the
body, as of that which destroys it. Whatever tends to pollute
the imagination, or to raise the passions, falls under this Law,
as impure pictures, books, Conversation, or any other like
matters. The eighth commandment is the Law of Love as it
respects the property of others. The portion of worldly things
allotted us, as far as it is obtained in an honest way, is the
Bread which God hath given us; for that we ought to be thankful,
to be contented with it, and, in the use of lawful means, to
trust Providence for the future. Imposing upon the ignorance,
easiness, or necessity of others, and many other things, break
God's Law, though scarcely blamed in society. Plunderers of
kingdoms though above human Justice, will be included in this
sentence. Defrauding the public, contracting debts without
prospect of paying them, or evading payment of just debts,
extravagance, all living upon Charity when not needful, all
squeezing the Poor in their Wages; these, and such things, break
this command; which requires industry, frugality, and content,
and to do to others, about worldly property, as we would they
should do to us. The ninth commandment concerns our own and our
neighbour's good name. This forbids speaking falsely On any
matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising or designing
to deceive our neighbour. Speaking unjustly against our
neighbour, to hurt his reputation. Bearing false Witness against
him, or in common Conversation slandering, backbiting, and
Tale-bearing; making what is done amiss, worse than it is, and
in any way endeavouring to raise our reputation upon the ruin of
our neighbour's. How much this command is every Day broken among
persons of all ranks! The tenth commandment strikes at the root;
Thou shalt not covet. The others forbid all desire of doing what
will be an injury to our neighbour; this forbids all wrong
desire of having what will gratify ourselves.

18-21 This Law, which is So extensive that we cannot Measure
it, So spiritual that we cannot evade it, and So reasonable that
we cannot find fault with it, will be the rule of the future
Judgment of God, as it is for the present conduct of Man. If
tried By this rule, we shall find our lives have been passed in
transgressions. And with this holy Law and an awful Judgment
before us, who can despise the Gospel of Christ? And the
knowledge of the Law shows our need of Repentance. In every
believer's Heart Sin is dethroned and crucified, the Law of God
is written, and the image of God renewed. The Holy Spirit
enables him to hate Sin and flee from it, to Love and keep this
Law in sincerity and Truth; nor will he cease to repent.

22-26 Moses having entered into the thick Darkness, God there
spake in his hearing all that follows from hence to the End of
chap. 23, which is mostly an exposition of The Ten Commandments.
The laws in these verses relate to God's Worship. The Israelites
are assured of God's gracious acceptance of their devotions.
Under the Gospel, men are encouraged to pray every where, and
wherever God's people meet in his name to Worship him, he will
be in the midst of them; there he will come unto them, and will
Bless them.