Biblical Story Lesson Plans - The Ten Commandments

Exodus 20 is one of the most famous passages in the Bible. Here, God meets with Moses, representing Israel, and gives him the terms of the covenant that he made with them. The first ten terms, are a summarization of God’s moral standard. Jesus summarized God’s Law into just two terms: love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself. Simple, yes. But not easy. The more we look into God’s Law, the more we will find that we have failed to keep it. In this way, the Law points us to trust in the only one who has perfectly obeyed: Jesus Christ.


After God rescues Israel out of Egypt, he leads them to Mount Sinai. There, God makes a covenant, or oath, with the nation saying that they will be his chosen nation so long as they obey his commandments. The people respond promising that they will obey. Upon hearing this, God tells Moses to prepare the people for a display of his power.

After three days, the people stand at the foot of the mountain and God descends on the top in thunder, lightning, a thick cloud, and trumpet blasts. God engulfs the top of the mountain in fire and smoke! The ground shakes, and the people are terrified.

Then, God calls Moses to the mountain top to give the terms of his covenant. But before he gives Moses his commands, he reminds him of what he has already done for Israel. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exod. 20:2). God is not a far off deity, he is their redeemer, their savior. The people have tasted his good grace and mercy, and now he is calling them to obey him.

The first term of the covenant is that they shall not worship any other gods. They are to be different from the surrounding nations that worshiped multiple gods. YHWH was calling them to allegiance to him alone. Unfortunately, polytheism was a recurring sin in Israel’s history, in which they would associate YHWH with other gods.\autocite[Exodus 20:3]{Barnes}

The second term is an extension of the first: you shall not make idols. This term was necessary because the surrounding nations all worshiped gods that they could see and touch. This term is not forbidding the worship of other idols. The first term already covers that. This term forbids worshiping God through any visible symbol, whether it be a statue or painting. The reason for this is that God is invisible and omnipresent. Any visual representation that we make of him will fall woefully short and is an insult to his glory and power.

The third term is that we should revere God’s name and character. God’s names, whether it be YHWH, Jehovah, LORD, God, or Jesus should not be used flippantly as a filler word in our conversations. When we do that, we deceive ourselves and others, indicating that God is not as holy and that sin is not as serious as he says.

The forth term is that we should take a day off after working six days. What a gift! God knows how quick we are to work ourselves into the ground and forget about the big picture of life. So, he has given us an excuse and opportunity to spend on day a week resting; enjoying the gifts that he’s given us and remembering his goodness.

While the first four terms regard our relationship with God, the remaining terms are about our relationships with each other. “It was fit that those should be put first, because man had a Maker to love, before he had a neighbor to love."\autocite[Exodus 20:3-11]{MatthewHenry}

The remaining terms go like this: We must honor and respect our parents. We must not murder. We shall not engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. Furthermore, we must not steal, lie, deceive, twist the truth, or envy what others have.

For this point forward, God gives Moses requirements regarding the nations sacrificial system, feasts and celebrations, and laws for social justice.

Theological Significance

If we take a step back and look at these ten commandments as a whole, what is God requiring of us? Jesus himself summarized all the Old Testament laws into two commands: Love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as your love self. This is how we are to reflect God as image bearers.

Simple, right? But not easy. If we take a hard look at each of these terms we will find that we have failed to hold each one. Sure, I’ve never murdered someone, but in Matthew 5 Jesus says that hatred in the heart is the same thing. In the same way, Jesus says that to lust with our eyes and mind are the same as committing adultery. These ten commands are not just about our external behavior, but also about our thoughts and motivations. What God requires of us is perfection, righteousness.

In giving Israel these commandments, God knew that they would fail immediately. That’s why he gave them the sacrificial system to atone for their sin. But the animal sacrifices could only go so far. Eventually, God will judge each of us according to his perfect standard, and we will fall short.

One of the purposes of the Law is to bring us to the point of desperation, realizing that we have been unfaithful to God and could never earn his acceptance and approval. And that’s where the Gospel meets us. Jesus is the only human who has kept every term of this covenant perfectly. He is the only one who perfectly reflected God’s goodness and glory. He was able to do this because he is God.

When we trust in Jesus, not only does he bear the penalty of our sins, but he also gives us his righteousness. Because of our faith, when God the Father looks at us, he doesn’t see our sin, he sees the perfect obedience of his Son. Additionally, God gives us the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

On our own, we were incapable of obeying God’s Law. Sin enslaved us. Now, the Holy Spirit is renewing us day by day. He is uprooting sin from our lives and giving us desires to love God and love others. He is repairing the broken mirror, the Imago Dei.

Links to this article