The Ten Commandments (And The Greatest Commandment)

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(Christian Study Topics)

The numbering of the commandments used on this page follows traditional Jewish ordering. Hebrew (and the English transliteration) are read from right to left.

Note: According to Jewish tradition, The “Ten Commandments,” the words recorded in Exodus 20, the words that the Creator Himself wrote on the two stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai (Ex. 31:18), which Moses smashed upon seeing the idolatry of the golden calf (Ex. 32:19). In the Torah, these words are never referred to as the Ten Commandments. In the Torah, they are called Aseret ha-D’varim (Ex. 34:28, Deut. 4:13 and Deut. 10:4). In rabbinical texts, they are referred to as Aseret ha-Dibrot. The words d’varim and dibrot come from the Hebrew root Dalet-Beit-Reish, meaning word, speak or thing; thus, the phrase is accurately translated as the Ten Sayings, the Ten Statements, the Ten Declarations, the Ten Words or even the Ten Things, but not as the Ten Commandments, which would be Aseret ha-Mitzvot. Click here to visite for more information.


– 1 –

Many of the Jewish sages taught that the greatest of all the mitzvot (commandments) is the very first commandment, “I am the LORD your God” (Ex. 20:2a). Why is that? Well, until we are really willing to accept Adonai as our God, the rest of the commandments are not likely to be obeyed. The God of Israel is calling us to obey the glorious truth that He is our God. Are we willing to obey?

I am the LORD your God.
— Ex. 20:2a

– 2 –

The second of the ten mitzvot (commandments) is, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Why does Adonai command us not to have other gods before Him? Well, first because He is a “jealous קַנָּא God” (see Ex. 34:14; Deut. 4:24), which suggests that He watches us lovingly and closely, like a faithful and passionate bridegroom watches over his betrothed. He loves us and has given Himself to us passionately; He is entirely committed to our relationship with Him.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
— Ex. 20:3

– 3 –

The third of the ten mitzvot (commandments) is, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain” (KJV). Many of the Jewish sages taught that the word translated “name” powerfully refers to the character or reputation of the one who bears it. The revealed name of the LORD— thus can be understood as the invocation for the very presence of God Himself. The word translated “in vain” probably comes from another word that pictures a rushing and destructive storm (sho-ah). One way to understand this mitzvah, then, is that we should never invoke Adonai’s name in a thoughtless, careless, or “stormy” manner (for this reason, orthodox Jews never pronounce the literal name, but substitute the word “Adonai” or “HaShem” instead).

When we call upon the LORD, we are actually invoking the one true God of the universe to manifest Himself to us. Since God is faithful and will be true to His name, He will really be present whenever He is called. This is serious business, and we should never take it lightly.

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD your God in vain
— Ex. 20:7a

– 4 –

The fourth of the ten mitzvot (commandments) is, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (KJV). The word translated “remember” (zah-khor) means more than merely recalling something past, but suggests actively focusing the mind upon something in the present. But what are we to “remember?”

In Genesis 2:3 we are told that God rested (shavat) from His creative activity and set apart the seventh day as the memorial of the work of His hands. God called the seventh day “holy” (kadosh), which means set apart as sacred, as exalted, as honored.

Just as the Lord set apart a time to focus on and honor the marvelous works of His hands, so we are commanded to regularly set apart a time to focus on and honor our own creative life in God. Notice that both God and man are to set apart the Sabbath and share in the glory of this shared creative life.

Some Jewish sages believe that the Sabbath is a picture of the Olam Ha Bah, or world to come. In the present rhythm of this life, however, the Sabbath is a sacred time to become spiritually re-connected with our true identities as God’s very children.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
— Ex. 20:8

– 5 –

The fifth mitzvah (commandment) marks a transition from the first four (which have to do with our vertical relationship with the Lord) to the following five (which have to do with our horizontal relationship with others). In this pivotal commandment, the word translated “honor” (kah-bed) derives from a root word meaning “weighty,” in terms of impressiveness or importance. The same word is also used to refer to our heartfelt attitude toward God.

The Lord intended that the mishpakah (family) would picture His relationship with us. Just as God created both man and woman in His image (Gen. 1:27), so children are to regard their parents as divinely ordained and truly significant.

The first four mitzvot tell us about God; and it is only through obedience to these commandments that we are able to really understand our own identity — as well as the identity of others in our family, our community, and our world.

Honor thy father and thy mother
— Ex. 20:12a

– 6 – 

The Jewish sages note that the word “ratsakh” applies only to illegal killing (e.g., premeditated murder or manslaughter) — and is never used in the administration of justice or for killing in war. Hence the KJV translation as “thou shalt not kill” is too broad.

Since man is made in the image of God, his life is infinitely precious — only God Himself has the right to give and take life. In the Mishnah it is written, “Why was only one man (i.e., Adam) created by God? — to teach that whoever takes a single life destroys thereby a whole world.”

But murder can be figurative as well as literal. The Talmud notes that shaming another publicly is like murder, since the shame causes the blood to leave the face. Moreover, gossip or slander are considered murderous to the dignity of man. ThePirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) states, “The evil tongue slays three persons: the utterer of the evil, the listener, and the one spoken about…” The Lord Jesus also linked the ideas of our words and attitudes with murder (see Matt. 15:19).

Thou Shalt Not Kill
— Ex. 20:

– 7 – 

The seventh of the ten mitzvot (commandments) is, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (KJV). Adultery refers to sexual union between a married person and someone other than his or her spouse. The penalty for adultery was severe (see Dt. 22:22, Lev. 20:10).

From the verse, “The … adulterer waits for twilight saying, No eye shall see me” (Job 24:15), the Talmud identifies the adulterer as a practical atheist, since he does not say, No man shall see me, but no eye — neither the eye of one below nor the eye of Him above.

The Lord Jesus identified the root condition of adultery as a problem with the heart: “For out of the heart proceed…adulteries.” The heart’s true affections are evidenced by the use of one’s eyes (see Matt. 5:27-28).

Adultery is a grave sacrilege, since it not only violates the sworn promise of parties to a sacred covenant, but perverts the picture of our union with God Himself. As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:30-32).

Thou shalt not commit adultery
— Ex. 20:14

– 8 – 

The eighth of the ten mitzvot (commandments) is, “Thou shalt not steal” (KJV). Stealing, in the sense of the Hebrew wordganav, refers to both the act of carrying off by stealth that which is not one’s own (i.e., theft), but also to the deceptive inner disposition that accompanies the action. And, ultimately, that deceptive inner disposition is a form of self-deception.

None of us really “owns” anything at all, since God alone is the Creator and Giver of all of life. Stealing arrogantly (and vainly) attempts to seize some “thing” and to claim it for oneself — blindly disregarding the fact that “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). At bottom, stealing is an act based on fear, since the attitude behind the action evidences a lack of trust that God will meet all our needs.

Thou shalt not steal
— Ex. 20:15

– 9 –

The ninth commandment prohibits swearing falsely against your neighbor in matters of law and civil proceedings, but, on a deeper level, it implicitly indicates the responsibility to be a witness of the truth at all times. Note that the Hebrew word for “truth” (emet) is composed from the first, the middle, and the last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, thus indicating that it encompasses the first things, the last things, and everything in between. Thus, in relation to our neighbor (who is really everyone), we are to be truthful and bear witness to the truth in all our moments of life. By lying, by bearing false testimony, we effectively deny the relationship to the One who said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
— Ex. 20:16

– 10 –

The word translated covet usually refers to selfish desire or lust (e.g., “Lust not after her beauty in thine heart…” Prov. 6:25), and thus speaks directly to the heart’s innermost intention, which, even if unacknowledged by ourselves, is always revealed before God: “Your Father who sees in secret” (Mt. 6:6). On the other hand, selfish desire can — if we are willing to be honest with ourselves — reveal to ourselves the condition of our hearts and thus mark our need for deliverance from the power of sin: “I had not known sin …except the law had said, ‘Thou shalt not covet’” (Rom. 7:7).

Now here is a paradox: How can we refrain from desiring that which we, in fact, do desire? How can we be made free from the endless cycle of desire-sin/desire-sin? By walking in the power of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God through Jesus Christ: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:24).

Thou shalt not covet…
— Ex. 20:17a

The Greatest Commandment

In Matthew 22:36 an expert in the Torah asks Jesus which of the commandments (mitvot) is the greatest of all. Jesus’ reply at once silences all of the varied pretenses and rationalizations of human pride by stating emphatically that the love of God is our very first duty.

And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
— Deut. 6:5

Source of text: Bible/Torah, and

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