Questions 38 & 39


What are the ten commands?


The ten commands are the words that God gave Moses for the people of Israel*. God himself wrote the ten commands on two stone tablets.


Exodus 31:18Deuteronomy 9:10



What are those commands?


1. Do not put any other gods ahead of me. 2. Do not make for yourself an idol* nor worship* it. 3. Do not use the name of the Lord* your God in a wrong way. 4. Remember to keep the Sabbath* day holy. 5. Give honour* to your father and mother. 6. Do not murder anyone. 7. Do not commit adultery*. 8. Do not steal. 9. Do not tell lies against your neighbour. 10. Do not desire anything that belongs to your neighbour.


Exodus 20:1-17


These are the commands that God gave to Moses. They were part of God’s covenant with his people. The scriptures* say that God wrote these words with his own hand. He gave them to Israel as a gift. This law* was the way that God would guide his people. God chose Israel and gave his commands to them because he loved them[1]. He wanted them to know how to please him. He wanted them to know how to be wise and live well with each other.


There were ten of these commands. But we should also remember that these commands are all a part of one law. When the people failed to do just one of the commands, they had broken the whole law[2].


Most of the ten commands tell the people what they must NOT do. Why did God give his people commands like these? Think about it this way. Imagine you are walking down a path. You see a sign that says, ‘DO NOT ENTER’. That sign may be there for two reasons. One, someone has something good in that place that they do not want you to have. The sign is a command to keep you from enjoying something good. Or two, someone knows that there is danger ahead. This sign is a command to keep you from being hurt. God’s Ten Commands to Moses are like the second example. God knew what was good for his people and what was not good for them. He knew that bad things would happen to them if they did not listen and they went their own way. So, God said, ‘No.’ God did not give the people the commands to take something from them. He gave them the commands to bless* them and keep them from harm. God is the one who made his people. God knew what was best for them. So, God did not give them the commands to put a burden upon them. He gave them these laws to guide them to what was good.


God also gave Israel these commands to show them his love. God did not give them the law to say, ‘Do these things and I will accept you.’ He had already chosen them to be his. He had already delivered them from being slaves in Egypt.* God gave them these laws to say, ‘You are the people whom I have chosen. You are the people I have loved. Do these things and live.‘ He gave them the law to help them find joy. When the people understood the commands in this way, they found delight in obeying the law.[3] The men who wrote the Psalms* knew this. That is why they loved the law[4]. They called the commands good and right and beautiful[5].


God gave these laws to Moses. But Jesus repeated them to the men and women who followed him. He wanted them to be guided by these laws too. They were to follow them as the way of wisdom. Jesus said that the law should not only guide their actions. Jesus wanted these laws to guide their hearts* as well.


Many years after God gave these commands, a man asked Jesus what command was the most important. He answered the man this way. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.* Love him with all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second is like it. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself’. [6]


Jesus said that when we obey the law as God intended, we show love. The commands show us how. The first four commands tell us how to show love for God. The last six commands tell us how to show love for our neighbors. If we love God, we will worship him alone. If we love our neighbors, we will not lie to them or steal from them. We will not speak words that would damage them. We will not be jealous of what they have. And we will want them to be loyal to their husbands or wives. If we love our neighbor, we show that love by how we act toward them.


Yes, it is possible to obey a law for a reason other than love. We may obey because we are afraid of punishment. But we can not show true love for God without doing what he tells us to do. And we can not show true love for our neighbor unless our actions toward them are loving.

[1] Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Deuteronomy 10:15
[2] James 2:9-11
[3] Psalm 119:24; Psalm 119:47; Psalm 119:77; Psalm 119:111; Psalm 119:162
[4] Psalm 1:2; Psalm 119:97
[5] Psalm 119
[6] Matthew 22:37-39