Davis W. Huckabee
This fifth law bridges the gap between the two tables of the law. For while it begins to manifest man’s duty to man, and indeed deals with the very first relationship that a child has to any other than self, yet it is also related to the first table, as we said, because parents are to children as God in their earlier years. A parent has great responsibility here, for the child will form his view of God according to the example and teaching that he sees in his parents. A proper parent will give a child a right view of God, while a bad parent will form a parody of God in the child’s mind. Sadly, some children picture God as a veritable monster because their parents were monsters to the children.
This commandment is not given simply to strengthen some arbitrary power that the parent has. So far as civil government is concerned, there is no commandment more important than this one. In very truth, all of the second table of the Law rests upon the proper administration of this Law, and this is doubtless the explanation for the rampant lawlessness that characterizes the present age. Most homes are bad.
It would be well if every person would regularly stop to ask himself if his home relationship—to his parents, to his spouse, to his children—is what it should be. And if one cannot answer in the affirmative, he ought to take immediate steps to correct this situation. The following things we wish to consider in our study upon this law. First—
THE PRESCRIPTION OF THIS LAW
What does this commandment prescribe as God’s will in man’s relationship to man? It prescribes as a first duty that one "honor" one’s parents. There are many words that could have been used here that would have expressed partially the duty involved, but no other single word covers so much territory as "honor."
As we have said above, "honor" includes several things, and therefore it is needful that we inquire what all is included in this, if we would endeavor to fulfill what is prescribed in this law. First, obedience is doubtless one of the foremost elements in this, and this is what we have above seen evidenced in the life of our Divine Lord. He "was subject unto them"—obedient to whatever they required of Him, and this is exactly what is required of all children by the New Testament restatement of this law. "Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord,’ Col. 3:20. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right," Eph. 6:1. The books of Colossians and Ephesians are parallel in many things, and it is obvious here that "in all things" is parallel to "in the Lord," in these two texts, or at least the two statements qualify each other. "In all things" cannot, of course, be made to justify committing any sin just because a wicked parent may command it. Unfortunately, in every age and nation there have been parents that influenced their children to commit evil. Such have often done so by claiming that the Bible required the children to do so.
This duty to obey one’s parents is restated in the book of Proverbs, and there is again the promise attached which is characteristic of this commandment. "My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother: Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck. When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou wakest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life," Prov. 6:20-23.
Of all the commandments, this one is perhaps the most profitable from the standpoint of mere physical life, for the keeping of this law results in prolonged life. No one loses anything of real value by keeping any of God’s commandments, but this one has a special promise appended, as we shall later note.
The second thing that is included in the word "honor" is respect. It is possible for a person to obey his parents in the letter of their command, yet still be very disrespectful at the same time, but these two things are mutually exclusive. Disrespectful obedience is not really obedience. It ought to be the most natural thing for a child to respect his parents, for there is a natural tendency for a child to look up to, and to almost worship, his parents. However, it sometimes happens that the parents do not give the child much reason to respect them, in which case, the guilt reflects in large part upon the parents for their failure. This present evil world also exerts a great deal of influence upon youth to cause them to be disrespectful toward parents, and this grows more so as we approach the end of the age, for the end times will be characterized by men being "without natural affection," II Tim. 3:3. It is to such as these, perhaps, that the wise man refers when he says, "There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother," Prov. 30:11. Such disrespect cannot hope to escape the sure curse of God.
Thirdly, then, the word "honor" includes care for them in old age. This is one of the most common ways in which this commandment is violated in our day. It has become fashionable to refuse to have one’s home cluttered up with old folks, and therefore elderly parents are often stuck away in some old folks’ home to slowly die of heartbreak and neglect. Only fifty years ago this was unheard of except in the case of those that had no children, or whose children were the most notorious of reprobates. Only two generations ago aged parents were taken into the home of their children, where they were given the honor due them. And if this was sometimes an imposition, it was only counted as a small part of what the children owed their parents because the children were also an imposition upon the parents when young. But it is not so now.
The Scriptures are very explicit in this matter, for God requires children and even grandchildren to take care of their aged relatives, and to show piety toward them thereby. "But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents for that is good and acceptable before God," I Tim. 5:4. "Nephews" here is too precise, for the Greek word ekgona signifies simply "descendants," and thus refers to grandchildren or great-grandchildren, for a nephew would not necessarily be a lineal descendent at all. Nor would the elderly be considered a "parent" to a mere nephew. Such care is important, for the Apostle is inspired to further say, "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel," I Tim. 5:8. Of the 42 appearances of the noun, verb and adjective forms of the Greek word here rendered "infidel," only in II Cor. 6:15 is it ever again rendered "infidel." Generally it is more literally rendered as "unbelief" "believed not," "unbeliever," etc. This makes the neglect of elderly ancestors, even beyond the generation of parents, to be the responsibility of people. And the apostle in this same chapter shows that where such elderly people do not have children or grandchildren to take care of them, the churches are to do so. "If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed," I Tim. 5:16. This was one of the reasons why the office of the deaconship was instituted, Acts 6:1-6. Sadly, the Lord’s churches have often abdicated their responsibility in this, and have left the task to the unbelieving world. How shameful!
It is not enough for selfish children and grandchildren to protest that the rest homes give their parents and grandparents better care than they could give them. The best care that a rest home can give is only bodily care, but elderly people need, and are entitled to, not only bodily, medical care, but mental care—love, respect, fellowship, yes, and perhaps even responsibility. Many elderly people who live out a lingering but pointless existence in a rest home could have a full and meaningful life if kept in a loved one’s home and given certain responsibilities to give some purpose to their lives.
Someone has said that no one has earned his "raising" until he has raised a family of his own. But it might be better said that no one has earned his "raising" until he has truly honored his parents to the end of their lives. That person that will not do so, has not only dishonored his parents, but has dishonored himself and brought down upon his own life God’s curse for neglecting the very ones that gave him life.
The Lord Jesus indicted the Pharisees because of this very thing. They had made a science of defrauding their parents of the care that was due unto them. Thus Jesus said unto them, "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honor thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me: and honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus ye have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition," Matt. 15:3-6.
The Jews had come to excuse themselves from giving their aged parents the things needed by them by saying something like, "Sorry Dad, Mom, but all that I could have given you I have dedicated to the Lord. It is Corban—a gift to God. So you’ll just have to make out the best way that you can." But worse still, the Jews’ tradition gave them permission to use for utterly selfish reasons what had ostensibly been dedicated unto the Lord, but it strictly forbade the use of it for needy parents. The whole scheme was conceived to excuse the selfish disregard of the needs of elderly parents. Little wonder then that Jesus called them "Hypocrites." Shocking! We say, but is there any great difference in this, and in many of the modern day excuses for not taking care of elderly parents? How often is an aged parent refused a place in the home because, "I’m too busy with church and community affairs to take care of you." Or, "I have certain social obligations, and I just can’t take care of these and you also." Or, "My own children take up so much time and expense that we just can’t afford to take you in." The excuses are legion, but they will not stand in the Day of Judgment, for God commanded all men and women to "Honor thy father and thy mother, and even made disrespect of parents a capital offense, Exod. 21:17; Lev. 20:9; Prov. 20:20; 30:17; Matt. 15:4, and implied in Eph. 6:2-3.
THE PROHIBITION OF THIS LAW
As in the case of the other commandments, this one has both a prescription and a prohibition. This is another of the positive declarations, and the prohibition is only intimated, yet it is as surely included in this law as if it had been expressly stated. Much that could be included in this thought has already been anticipated, for any disobedience, disrespect or failure to care for parents in their time of need, is to dishonor them, and this would be included under the prohibition intimated in the commandment. But we may go further, and note some of those things that are prohibited elsewhere in connection with this commandment.
First, it needs to be noted that no one can dishonor his parents without, at the same time, dishonoring God, for God has put the parent, in a sense, in the place of God during the child’s youngest years. Parental authority is the only authority that the child knows or recognizes for several years, and that authority is never completely invalidated. Thus, when a person, even when he has become grown, dishonors his parents, he is dishonoring those that were, for many years, God’s vicegerents to him. In essence then, his rebellion is a rebellion against God Himself, who has never so abrogated parental authority as to make it right to totally disdain and repudiate it.
Again, it is very easy to dishonor one’s parents by the way they are addressed. How often do we hear people of our day addressing their parents as "the old man," and "the old woman?" Only a generation or two ago this was entirely unknown except in the crudest and most degenerate of families. Some children dishonor their parents by calling them by their first names. Respect should dictate that parents be called by dignified titles, for if children truly love their parents they will never become so familiar as to address them in a disrespectful manner. In all justice it must be said that the parents themselves are often to blame for such disrespect by allowing it when the child is small because it is thought to be "cute." But this is a wrong done to the child, for when he comes to years of accountability he is going to be held accountable for disrespect to parents.
Another way in which one dishonors parents is specifically mentioned in Prov. 30:17. "The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it." It is possible to be impudent or scornful in eye or gesture even while one perfunctorily obeys the command of the parent, but all such is a violation of this present commandment, and incurs the guilt of it. It is not enough that one does what his parents tell him to do, he must do it in a respectful way in order to fulfill the requirements of this commandment. It is related of Adam Clarke, the noted Methodist commentator, that as a child he once looked impudently at his mother while doing what she commanded him to do, but which he didn’t want to do. She thereupon quoted Prov. 30:17 to him. Later, while in the woods a raven lit in a tree near him and began to caw, and he, fearing that this proverb was about to be literally executed upon him, covered his eyes and ran all the way home screaming in fear. This proverb would generally not be literally fulfilled upon the impudent child, but it rather implies that such will die an early death as the commandment intimates, and so will be the food for carrion feeders.
The prohibition of this commandment also covers such acts of one’s life as would reflect badly upon one’s parents. If a son or daughter lives in sin, this dishonors the parents, and so, is a violation of this commandment. The following Scriptures reveal this. "A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother, Prov. 10:1. "A fool despiseth his father’s instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent," Prov. 15:5. "He that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow: and the father of a fool hath no joy," Prov. 17:21. "A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him," Prov. 17:25. "A foolish son is the calamity of his father," Prov. 19:13.
In all of these texts, the word "fool" and its cognates have to do, not with persons that are mentally deficient, which would be excusable, but with those that are spiritually deficient; i. e., those that are wicked, vain, selfish, boastful, etc. Such individuals, by their lives and actions dishonor their parents by causing reproach upon the family name, and sorrow to the parental hearts. Youth always has much to say about its "rights," but it has no rights where the exercise of those rights will distress or dishonor the parents.
An example of this is to be seen in the case of Eli’s sons, whose ungodly and utterly selfish actions caused great reproach to fall upon their father, and resulted in the priesthood ceasing forever from the house of Eli. "Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the Lord’s people to transgress. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them," I Sam. 2:22-25. When men hold God’s authority in contempt, He often gives them up to destruction, and so, does not give sufficient grace for them to repent, but they reap the far-reaching natural consequences of their sins. It was this bad example of Eli’s sons, coupled with the like sin of Samuel’s sons, that led to the Israelites rejecting the government of the judges, which God had ordained, and calling for a king to rule over them, I Sam. 8:1-7. Sin, like a pebble tossed into a pool of water, has many and far-reaching ripples. From parental disrespect to rebellion against parental authority to rebellion against the law of God was the progression of the sins of Eli’s sons. But their sins set the example for others in Israel, and even resulted ultimately in the whole nation rebelling against the authority of the judges whom God had appointed.
Someone has well said that "No sin ever travels alone, but always attracts travelling companions," and so it was in this instance. Sin is always progressive unless restrained by grace, and it grows worse with time, and only the excision of it can remedy the situation. The sin first started with Eli’s leniency with his sons while they were small, and when they were grown he could not, and evidently did not try very hard, to restrain them from their evil course. "For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not," I Sam. 3:13.
Training a child for a godly and decent life must start in the playpen, for it is too late by many years when the person is already in the state pen. Parental duty in this matter is set forth in Deut. 6:6-9, "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates."
The teaching and training of children is not the duty of the church, nor of the school, nor of the state, but it is the duty of parents, but it must be a continual, sincere, exemplified teaching if it is to be effective. Not only so, but it must be authoritative and backed up by discipline where transgression occurs. Some people say, "I love my child too much to spank him," but this is not so. Rather such loves oneself too much to be unpopular with the child for a moment in order to teach it to live correctly and would rather let the child go to hell than be unpopular with it. The Bible makes a liar out of the person that makes such a claim. ""He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes [early, Hebrew]," Prov. 13:24. "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying," Prov. 19:18. "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it," Prov. 22:6. "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him," Prov. 22:15. "Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell," Prov. 23:13-14.
Of course none of these and the numerous other such text intend or justify brutalizing a child. The writer’s first pastorate was among a rural people, and once, after he had preached on the use of the rod to make children behave, a small child that was familiar only with rods that were part of farming equipment objected. "I don’t like that preacher," he told his mother, and when she questioned him why, he explained. "I don’t think it is necessary to beat a child with an iron rod. I think a switch is good enough." If discipline begins when a child is just crawling, only the mildest switching of the bare hand or bare behind is necessary for the child to quickly learn that when it violates a parent’s "No" there will certainly and immediately follow pain. Self-interest will move it to submission if the discipline in regular and consistent. But if a child learns that it can hold in contempt all commands of "No" and nothing will happen, then it is emboldened to keep testing the parents’ limits. Children, though they are naturally selfish and willful, yet want limits to be set, for this comforts them for it gives stability to the home. And never should any parent say in the presence of a willful child, "I just can’t do a thing with him." That is a lie to begin with, for it is not a matter of can’t, but of I don’t want to, and it only reinforces the child’s natural rebelliousness, and convinces him that all he has to do to get his way is be stubborn. A child that has not been disciplined all its life is an almost hopeless rebel by the time he or she is in the teens, sad to say, and this is generally the parents’ fault.
All of this points up the fact that there is parental duty involved in this commandment, as well as duty of children, and sometimes the disrespect that children show their parents is a result of parents’ negligence or inconsistency or manipulateness. This commandment therefore not only prescribes, but also prohibits, and however a person may have fulfilled the letter of this law, he is still guilty of transgressing its prohibition if he has not shown a genuine loyalty and respect to his parents.
This law is not all requirement though, for we find a precious jewel in it for all that will receive it, and therefore, our third thought will be—
THE PROMISE OF THIS LAW
The promise of this law is expressed in these words, "that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." That this takes the form of a definite promise is clear from the New Testament comment upon this command, for Paul was inspired to write, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth," Eph. 6:1-3.
It is always profitable to obey the Lord’s commandments but this commandment has a special promise appended to it—namely, of long life for the keeping of it. Nothing will shorten a person’s natural life so quickly and so certainly as being disrespectful towards one’s parents. Indeed, in Israel, the death penalty was provided for extreme cases of this. "If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; and they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear," Deut. 21:18-21.
However, this is not the meaning of the promise—that one will have his life shortened by a judicially imposed death penalty for stubbornness and rebelliousness, for this penalty is seldom enacted now. But what is meant by this, is that God will shorten one’s life measurably when there is disrespect toward one’s parents. Often there will be a direct cause and effect relationship between this disrespect and the way in which one’s life is shortened. Recklessness in regard to the commandments of God is often accompanied by recklessness toward natural laws, so that the individual in time violates some one of these natural laws to his own destruction. If one assumes that he can ignore the Law of God and just bulldoze his way through life, that attitude often carries over into the natural realm, and nature is terribly unforgiving of those that violate its laws. And even the most cautious person will have his life shortened by disobedience toward his parents, and later repentance will not reverse this penalty. It may take the sting out of death, but this is one of God’s inexorable laws of sowing and reaping. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting," Gal. 6:7-8. This law of sowing and reaping is frequently stated in Scripture, both is a good and bad sense, Job 4:8; Prov. 22:8; Hosea 8:7; Rom. 2:6; II Cor. 9:6.
We have mentioned by way of negative example the case of Eli and his sons, but there is also a notable positive example of the fulfillment of the commandment in Scripture as well, and it exemplifies the promise. This is the case of the Rechabites, which is recorded in Jer. 35. Jonadab, the son of Rechab charged all his descendents not to drink wine, or to even possess a vineyard, and they obeyed him insomuch that the Lord cited the Rechabites to the rebellious Israelites, and gave them a promise of perpetuity. "And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you: Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want [lack] a man to stand before me for ever," Jer. 35:18-19. And has this been fulfilled? We doubt not, for as recently as 1862 it is said that a tribe of these Rechabites was still flourishing in the vicinity of the Dead Sea.
As we have before stated in this series, God does not require that which is unreasonable. He does not, in this commandment, require that children shall be obedient to a parent that commands them to sin, and even the right commands which the parents gives are to be made in the right spirit. There are reciprocal duties in this matter, and thus it is written, "And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," Eph. 6:4. "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged," Col. 3:21.
Too many parents promote disrespect on the part of their children by their unreasonable demands, their nagging and criticism, their lack of appreciation, their constant lack of faith in the children, and their own bad example. Parents cannot compel respect except by setting the right example. Respect must be earned by the parent. Doubtless this is why the commandment to children to honor their parents is so often accompanied by the expression of a reciprocal duty on the part of the parents.
This law becomes especially important in our own day inasmuch as it is foretold that the transgression of this law will characterize the end times of this age. "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boaster, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents…" II Tim. 3:1-2. The passage in Eph. 6:1-3 cited above, sets forth three very important reasons for obeying this commandment. (1) It is right. (2) It is commanded. (3) It is profitable.
LAW VI: "THOU SHALT NOT KILL"
In our English version this is the briefest of all the commandments, although in the Hebrew text the two following are equally brief, so far as the number of Hebrew radicals in the words. Two opposite extremes are taken in regard to this commandment. It is the mistaken idea of some that this now before us is broken only by a relative few, and those only the lowest forms of human life. But that this is an erroneous assumption will be made manifest when we come to consider the restatement of this law in the New Testament. The opposite extreme is that any killing of human beings—even the Divinely sanctioned execution of murderers, self-defense in which an attacker dies, and all war, is murder, and so, is prohibited by the law. And worse yet, the foolish advocates of "animal rights" use "murder" commonly of any killing of animals, even for food, and claim that such is a violation of this law. All these extremes on both sides show an inconceivable ignorance of Scripture teaching.
It is a curious thing how the world, generally speaking, has gotten this law all confused in our day. Thus a man that has wantonly, and with cold blooded premeditation, murdered a fellow human being, is given more consideration and has more "rights" than anyone else in the community, and especially than the victim. While on the other hand an officer of the law, if he has to shoot someone in protection of the life and rights of others, and the authorized agent for the protection of the community that tries to enforce the laws of the land and put to death the murderer, are both called murderers. But this confusion is all contrary to the Law of God. Repeatedly, when the death penalty is required upon a transgressor of the law, those who execute this law are exonerated from any guilt by the Scriptures saying of those that have to be executed, "Their blood be upon their own heads." This is a biblical way of saying that the guilt is the transgressors’ alone. The devil, himself being under this very indictment, John 8:44, has always wanted to do away with all law. And let us be assured that that he is the one that is back of all present endeavors to abrogate the death penalty. Again we refer the reader to the appendix to this study that deals with the subject of capital punishment.
This law, like the others, was not first given here upon Mount Sinai, but has been in existence from the very beginning of human history. It is evident that there was a law against murder, which prescribed the death penalty for transgression of it in Cain’s day, else he would not have feared that he would be killed for the murder of Abel, Gen. 4:14. This law was very clearly set forth, and the penalty for its transgression, and the reason upon which it is based in Gen. 9:5-6. "And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." There is no getting around the force of this. It is an express law that every shedder of blood, whether man or beast, shall have his blood shed in turn. This is one instance of God’s Law of sowing and reaping, Gal. 6:7-8. Later portions of Scripture show modification made upon this law in order that none might be unjustly punished. But justice always demands that life go for life where one has maliciously taken life. The following things may be noted about this sixth law—
THE PROHIBITION OF THIS LAW
Let it first be said that there are some things that are erroneously comprehended under this law that do not belong there. For example, it is sometimes said that anyone that kills in the process of war is guilty of murder—that war itself is murder. But war per se is not murder, nor is the killing necessitated by war always murder. The fallacy of this view is to be seen in that God Himself often commanded the Israelites to go to war and to destroy whole nations of people, I Chr. 5:22: "The war was of God." Therefore to hold that war, or killing in war is automatically murder is to indict God Himself for murder. We must always remember that God has the right of disposal of all people, and He can and does decree when each person is to die, and He often uses war to accomplish this. We cite but one example. "And the Lord thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little: thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee. But the Lord thy God shall deliver them unto thee, and shall destroy them with a mighty destruction, until they be destroyed. And he shall deliver their kings unto thine hand, and thou shalt destroy their name from under heaven: there shall no man be able to stand before thee, until thou have destroyed them," Deut. 7:22-24. One cannot indict these Israelites for coming into the land of Canaan and killing and dispossessing the native inhabitants without also making God guilty, for He, being the Owner of all things, Ps. 24:1, ordered this done, and even pronounced a curse upon them if they failed to do so. This was done mainly because the native inhabitants of Canaan had long since become idolaters, and so, had incurred the death penalty that God had decreed for all idolaters, Deut. 13:6-11. They were all guilty before God of a capital crime, and God now decreed the execution of the penalty upon them all. Right at this point some might object "but what about all those innocent little babies that were likewise put to death?" Their deaths would be a special act of grace from God, for all dying infants are instantly received into heaven, since only elect infants die, but had they been allowed to grow to adulthood, most would have become idolaters like their parents, and been lost forever. But this way, all of those under the age of accountability are saved from their congenital sinfulness. There is no injustice in God’s dealings, but there is much of His mercy and grace shown.
This is not meant to be a justification for any and all war, for war is often started and sustained by greedy and proud men for no other purpose than to line their own pockets with dead men’s money, or to glorify themselves by the accumulation of property. Such cannot be justified. But God often allows, and even commands war for His own good and wise reasons, which we may, or may not understand at present. In many instances, the cause of righteousness can only be promoted by the overthrow of wicked and idolatrous leaders.
Another thing that is held by some to be prohibited by this law is the execution of the death penalty upon convicted criminals. Much effort is presently being put forth to abolish capital punishment in this country, and one of the arguments used is that it is contrary to the sixth commandment. But the execution of the criminal has never been considered murder by any civilized country, nor is it by God. This argument is simply the broken crutch of those silly, sentimental persons that have no real conception of what the Bible teaches, and who will reject the Bible teaching when it is shown them if it contradicts their preconceived ideas. To hold this view is again to make God guilty, for no less than twenty-eight times God decrees the death penalty for at least seven different crimes. "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you," Deut. 17:6-7. Obviously then there are those that are "worthy of death" because of their crimes, and this, if there were no other arguments, would eradicate all the arguments of the anti-death penalty people. Evildoers must be put away from the generality of the people, and this will take different forms, depending upon the crime.
Such commands as this could be multiplied many times over, but we forbear, and only note that the Lord puts the guilt upon the person that committed the crime. Numerous times, after the death penalty is pronounced upon one for a crime, there will immediately follow the statement "…his blood shall be upon him." See Lev. 20:9-16, 27 where the phrase is recorded six times. This phrase points to where the guilt for a crime lies —not in those that punish the crime, but in the one committing the crime. The Apostle Paul used this phrase to show his innocence from responsibility concerning those to whom he had preached. He said, "I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God," Acts 20:26-27.
To consider this matter more positively we note what is prohibited by this commandment—the presumptuous and premeditated murder of a fellow being. This is what is primarily intended although there are doubtless other things that are involved as well.
All of these things were overt acts, and many persons even to this day think that only these incur the guilt of this sixth law. However, our Lord, when He voiced His "higher teaching" of these laws, manifested that the spirit that causes murder is equivalent to the act itself. Six times in Matt. 5 Jesus says, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time (or the equivalent)…but I say unto you…," thus setting forth thereby higher teachings than the rabbis taught. He said, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the counsel: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire," Matt. 5:21-22. Both the words for "Raca" and "fool," were words showing contempt, and it was not the verbalizing of the words themselves, but the inner attitude that made a person guilty. How many persons, in the heat of passion, give vent to expressions of hatred and contempt for others. All such expressions and the passion that prompts them make one guilty of this sixth commandment.
A similar but even more explicit expression of this is recorded in I John 3:15. "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murder hath eternal life abiding in him." Hatred without just cause is equivalent to the act of murder. The overt act may not be committed, but a person may give expression to the thought by the use of terms of contempt. Behold, then, the broadness of this commandment, that it takes in even the thoughts and passions of the heart. And rightly so, for as our Lord taught, "out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders…" etc., Matt. 15:19.
THE PRESUMPTION OF THIS LAW
This law takes for granted and presumes as true certain things that form the basis of this law. First, it presumes as true that man is made in the image of God, and to destroy that which is made in the image of God is actually an assault on God Himself, for it is an act of sacrilege. This is expressly set forth in the first recorded declaration of capital punishment. "Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man," Gen. 9:6. This is why the death penalty for murder can never be abolished except to the contempt of Almighty God Himself. The majesty of God Himself is bound up in the life of man, and the individual that commits the crime of murder against a fellow human being manifests his contempt of God by that act.
This law is also based upon the fact that when a person takes the life of another, he takes that which he can never, under any circumstances give back. If a man steals from another, he may be able to return what he has stolen, and may even add to what he has taken. But such is not the case with life. When once the life-bearing blood has been spilled upon the ground there is no way by which man can return it to its courses. Doubtless this is why, in every case where the act of murder has been committed, God decrees the death penalty: "life shall go for life." Indeed, the lex talionis—the law of retaliation—makes every man responsible for the exact amount of damage that he does to another, be it murder or mutilation. See Exod. 21:23-25; Lev. 24:19-22; Deut. 19:18-21.
But this law also presumes the need of diligent safeguards against the abuse of it. There is no law so holy and just and good, but that the wicked heart of man can devise some way to distort it so that it will work to his own advantage while working to another’s disadvantage. The fault, however, lies not in the Law of God, which is "holy, just, good and spiritual," Rom. 7:12, 14, but it lies in the wicked and perverted heart of fallen man who corrupts all that he puts his hands to. Nor is the fact that sometimes "innocent" victims are put to death any reason to abrogate the death penalty. God is in control of all things, and it is His right to determine when and how each person departs this life. And sometimes He wills to take from life one that was not guilty of the crime for which he was accused. If such is truly a child of God, his death will be a blessing for he will be delivered into eternal glory, and if he is not a child of God, he will be guilty of other death deserving crimes, for all sin deserves the death penalty, Ezek. 18:4.
The safeguards are several, and they are adequate for all ordinary needs, and if they were stringently followed, and rigidly enforced, the cases of miscarriage of justice would be infinitely rarer than they are now under the "concerned" but unenlightened guidance of worldly man. After referring to Deut. 19:15-19, B. H. Carroll gives the essences of these safeguards.
Again, this law presumes that justice necessitates the execution of the death penalty for the transgression of this law, for collateral passages are very explicit in requiring the death penalty in every case of murder. The phrase "he shall surely be put to death" appears two dozen times or more in the Pentateuch, several of which relate to the sin of murder. It is the plea in our day that the death penalty does not deter crime, but no penalty deters crime if it is not enforced, which is the case in America today. However, the death penalty, according to God’s Word, does have a deterrent value when rigidly enforced, for a number of times, after the death penalty is enjoined, there follows the statement, "So thou shalt put the evil away from among you." See Deut. 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:21, 22:22, 24; 24:7. But even if there were never any deterrent action from the death penalty, it would still be right simply from the standpoint of God’s justice. It is this fact that this law presumes, and upon which it is based, for being Moral Law, this contains an internal morality to it.
THE PUNISHMENT OF THIS LAW
We have already dealt with this matter to a considerable length in what has gone before, but additional emphasis must be put upon this. Not only is death decreed for all murder, but it is required that this penalty be summarily executed upon the guilty. Justice has become so perverted in our day that a murderer, if he ever comes to trial, often does so only after a number of years. And then through legal technicalities, it may be prolonged another year or more, and then if, perchance he is found guilty, additional delays may keep the guilty from being executed for many more years while he is granted appeal after appeal. It was not so in Bible times, but he that was accused of a crime was speedily put on trial, and if found guilty was quickly executed. Thus, a man that was tempted to kill another thought long about it before putting it into execution for he knew that he would probably be put to death the same day that he killed his victim if he was caught. Strict and summary justice always makes the evil man take second thoughts about committing a capital crime. But slowness in executing justice always encourages further evildoing, Eccl. 8:11-13.
Five times in Numb. 35 the death penalty is enjoined for the crime of murder and each time the close connection between the crime and the punishment is emphasized. After defining the specific nature of the murder, the statement follows that "he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death." See Vv. 16, 17, 18, 21, 31. The punishment is to follow the crime without delay or debate. See also Lev. 24:17, 21; Exod. 21:12, 15.
This law made ample provision for any killing that did not partake of the nature of murder, for it is written, "And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee," Exod. 21:13. This would be for cases of accidental killing, for which the cities of refuge were provided. "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Canaan; Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares. And they shall be unto you cities of refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment," Numb. 35:10-12. See also Deut. 19:4-6.
The law of retaliation provided that the next of kin of the murdered man could take revenge upon the killer if he could catch him before he reached a city of refuge, but once inside that city, and the manslayer was safe from the avenger. But he must stand trial before the court of the city to determine if he was guilty of murder or only of manslaughter. If the former was the case, then fleeing to the city of refuge did him no good. He was to be immediately taken from the altar and executed. "But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die," Exod. 21:14. However, if the man was exonerated of murder—if the killing was found to be accidental or in self-defense—then he was delivered from the avenger of blood. But he was deprived of a certain amount of his freedom nonetheless, and had to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the current high priest, Numb. 35:22-25. The avenger of blood would be guilty of blood himself if, at any time, he invaded the city of refuge and killed the manslayer within its confines. However, if the manslayer ventured outside the city of refuge, and the avenger found him there and slew him, he was not guilty, Numb. 35:26-28. This makes evident beyond doubt that in God’s reckoning not all killing is murder. Some is justified.
Another thing is revealed about this punishment for the crime of murder. A rich man could not buy or bribe his way out of punishment. Suppose that a rich man was guilty of the murder of someone, and he flees to the city of refuge. But there, he offers a bribe to the judges, or perhaps even offers to buy off the family of the slain man by giving them a large sum of money so that he may not be judged guilty of murder, or even confined to the city of refuge. This is not to be done, for Scriptures says, "Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction [‘ransom’ or ‘atonement’ as the Hebrew word is more commonly rendered] for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death. And ye shall take no satisfaction [same word as above] for him that is fled to the city of refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest. So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it," Numb. 35:31-33.
From all these laws about the crime of murder, and its punishment, it is evident that our country is greatly defiled and guilty before God because of its failure to execute upon the crime of murder that which Divine justice calls for. "The land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it," Numb. 35:33.
The question may be asked as to the Christian’s duty in regard to the sixth commandment. Needless to say, no Christian ought to ever be guilty of murder, either in deed or in thought. "Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters," I Pet. 4:15. But what should his reaction be if this sin is committed against some of his loved ones? Should he take the part of the avenger of blood, as in ancient times? Is he justified in taking the part of the sheriff, judge and jury and executing the penalty for murder upon the guilty party? By no means, for our Lord said, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth [the ancient lex talionis—the law of retaliation]: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also," Matt. 5:38-39. And Paul was inspired to teach, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good," Rom. 12:19-21.
However, in neither of these texts, nor in any others, is the Christian or anyone else ever justified in trying to abrogate God’s just law of capital punishment for the taking of human life. Observe very carefully. This does not mean that no crime is ever to be punished, but it only forbids personal, individual execution of punishment for any crime committed against one of his relatives. This is the legitimate duty and office of the civil magistrate to whom God has given the task of maintaining civil order and government. Indeed, God’s Word condemns any attempt to disobey the civil government under which a person lives. "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation [more commonly rendered ‘judgment’]. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil," Rom. 13:1-4. "Sword" here and elsewhere is a Bible metaphor for the authority given to the civil magistrate to capitally execute those that are "worthy of death." Here inspiration denominates this a "good" thing, not an evil thing to all but evildoers.
It is clear from these last verses that capital punishment is not just some ancient barbaric practice. The civil authority in this age still bears the sword of judicial punishment, even as it did in Old Testament times, contrary to the soft-headed sentimentalists of our day that would abrogate the death penalty. Actually, the division of the Bible into "Old" and "New" Testaments is a purely human division. God has not so divided His Word, but rather refers to it all as a unit—"The Scriptures." Therefore it is an erroneous assumption to think that something is no longer binding simply because it is found in the "Old Testament." All of the Moral Law, principles of justice, the attributes of God, descriptions of the coming Messiah, and many other things, have their roots in the "Old Testament." In truth, no law, precept or ordinance of the Old Testament is abolished except what is specifically said to be abolished.
This law against murder still stands, and its punishment is the same as ever. Jesus Himself said, "All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword," Matt. 26:52. And in Rev. 13:10 the same principle is still operational at the end of the age. "He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword." All malicious violence that anyone does against a fellow human being must be punished by a like act. That is simply justice, and those that would refuse to do so are guilty of the greatest injustice toward the innocent victim.
The penalty for murder is not more severe than the crime, and it matters not that the murderer may later repent and be sorry for taking the life of a fellow creature (or at least claim to be). The fact still remains that he has taken what he cannot return, and therefore justice demands that "life shall go for life," and the Bible allows no alternative punishment.
LAW VII: "THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY," V14.
The present age is one of such sexual promiscuity that only a small percentage of the world’s population are innocent of the actual deed prohibited in this commandment, and an even smaller percentage are innocent of the guilty thought involved in this law. This is but natural to expect, however, for as people become less spiritual, they always become more carnal, and emphasize the pleasures of the flesh in inverse proportions as they de-emphasize spiritual things.
There are many misconceptions about this law, some of them deliberate misinterpretations of it. Such as, that this law applies only to married persons, or, that it applies only to the overt act, or that this law is not really important so long as the parties involved really love their new partners. The world has always perverted God’s Law, even if it meant adopting the most illogical and shameful interpretations of it in order to do so. The courts of our land have contributed to a shameful amount of justification for the violation of this law by justifying divorce for almost any reason and subsequent remarriage. So, in this latter day, one is out of style if he has had only one or two wives, and if he has not indulged frequently in extra-marital sexual affairs. Only a couple of generations ago adultery, whether clandestine or legalized through divorce, was considered to involve such a stigma that only the irreligious, or at least the most abused mates would resort to divorce. Now it is a socially acceptable way of life, so that multiplied thousands of people have several living mates, and think it is nothing unusual or immoral. And many others do not even attempt to legitimize their sexual liaisons with others than their marriage partners. All of which only points up the fact that our present age is one that is becoming more and more to be characterized by lawlessness—rebellion against the Law of God. As in the days of Noah, so will it be in the end of the age, Matt. 24:37-39.
This law, like most of the others, is restated in the New Testament so as to show that it has a deeper signification than many think. Our Lord shows that there is a "spirit" to this law, as well as a "letter." The following things may be observed in connection with this law—
THE PROHIBITION OF THIS LAW
This law finds its basis in the original creation, for when God created man, He created them "male and female," Gen. 1:27. Not only so, but when this creation is detailed, it is said, "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him," Gen. 2:18. After the bringing together of the first pair, it is said, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh," Gen. 2:24. In these passages it is noteworthy that never is "wife" used in the plural, from which may be gathered that the original creation supposed that there would be only one woman and one man in each marriage relationship, and for the life of both parties. Indeed, this is the divine commentary given upon these passages in the New Testament, for our Lord Jesus, in response to a question from the Pharisees on the legitimacy of divorce for every cause, gave very specific answer. "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder," Matt. 19:4-6. That the words that first appear to be spoken by Adam in Gen. 2:24 were actually what God Himself has said, is made clear from Jesus’ words, which attribute the words to the Creator.
This law first of all prohibits polygamy, which is, when considered in the light of the original creation, basically adultery, for it violates the original order that prescribed by example a marriage of one man and one woman only. This original marriage relationship was not so ordained only for orderliness in human society, for there is also a typical aspect to it.
This law prohibits all forms of sexual looseness, for while the word "adultery" deals specifically with illicit sexual relations between persons that are married to others, yet in the New Testament, this law is sometimes restated to comprehend all fornication without regard to the marital status of the parties involved. Doubtless, this comprehensiveness is included here in this law.
We live in an age in which sexual promiscuity is a common thing, and it is considered by many to be the privilege of all that are so inclined. But the Scriptures are very express in condemning this, and they show that this is no light matter in God’s eyes. "For this ye know, that no whoremonger [fornicator], nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God," Eph. 5:5. "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge," Heb. 13:4. That this seventh commandment embraces fornication, strictly speaking, as well as adultery, is made certain from I Tim. 1:8-10. "But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers. For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine." This makes specific reference to the Decalog, yet it says nothing of adultery, but specifies fornication as one of the things covered by the law. Obviously, then, this seventh commandment is meant, but embraces all forms of sexual immorality, not just that which involves married people.
A third thing prohibited by this law is divorce without just reason for it. The Jews from the days of Moses had become notoriously lax concerning the laws of divorce. The enactment of Moses in Deut. 24:1, specified, "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it cometh to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house." This had been so perverted by the Jews as to be made justification for divorce upon the most trivial of excuses. The corruptness of this divorce law approached the corruption of our nation’s divorce laws that justifies divorce on such comprehensive and ill-defined reasons as "incompatibility," "mental cruelty," and other equally vague reasons. Yea, now there is even "no fault" divorce that gives no reason whatsoever for the dissolution of the marriage.
It was this perversion of the laws of divorce that prompted our Lord to set forth His most extensive teaching upon divorce. "It has been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery," Matt. 5:31-32. This leaves little room for doubt that a large majority of the second and later marriages of the present day are adulterous marriages and are under the condemnation of this seventh commandment.
At a later time, the Jews endeavored to entrap Jesus by bringing up this matter of what constituted just cause for divorce, and He cited the original creation as the reason why marriages were to be both lifelong and monogamous. "They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery," Matt. 19:7-9. From this we observe: (1) The Jews held that Moses "commanded" divorce. But (2) Jesus said Moses only "suffered"—permitted—them to divorce their wives. And (3) This was only permitted "because of the hardness of your hearts." (4) And this was not the original order of things for "from the beginning it was not so." (5) Not only so, but Jesus gave but one reason for a scriptural divorce—unfaithfulness upon the part of the partner. (6) And remarriage of one that had been divorced for other reasons than unfaithfulness constituted adultery. (7) Remarriage of the guilty party where there was a scriptural reason for the divorce constituted adultery on the part of the guilty party.
From all of this it becomes obvious that marriage is no lark, to be entered into on the spur of the moment and without solemn consideration of all the duties involved in it. If marriage is for life, and excluding death, there is but one way out of it without guilt, then it becomes very necessary that all persons take diligent heed before leaping headlong into it. There is more importance in choosing a mate for life than in almost any other choice that any person makes. Yet how few make it a matter of deliberation? Hear what the Lord says of this matter. "The Lord had been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou has dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away," Mal. 2:14-16. Several things must be noted from this passage. The Lord pays close attention to what goes on in the marriage, and will be a witness against wrongdoing. And since this involves a covenant, it is a case of treachery when either partner fails to honor and respect the other. God is here said to make the two of them one, so He is involved in all marriages, whether the parties realize it or not. And the purpose of each marriage is that the marital union might produce a godly seed—children that will worship and serve God as He has commanded—which cannot be done when either or both partners are not committed to the other. Nothing produces ungodly children like inconsistency on the part of the parents. And so far from God approving, or even ignoring dissolution of the marriage, He positively hates it.
The influence of the home is tremendous—for good or for evil—and where the home is pervaded with the spirit of adultery, there will the children imbibe that spirit in an even greater degree than they observed in their parents. Children see and realize a lot more of what goes on in the home than most parents realize. This is doubtless what is back of the lack of discipline and decency in our present world.
This law therefore not only prohibits all forms and degrees of adultery, but also makes it necessary that much prayer and deliberation be practiced in the choosing of a life mate. For failure to do this can easily lead to the individual becoming an unwilling party to adultery through divorce, or else to a lifetime of unhappiness if one remains married to one that was not a compatible mate.
But not only may a person be guilty of breaking this law through an overt act, but he may also be just as guilty through the thought and desire of the heart. Thus does Jesus interpret this law in Matt. 5:27-28. "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." As we noted in our study upon the last commandment, it is the heart that is the source of all sinful acts, and consequently the thought is equivalent to the deed so far as the fact of sin is concerned. "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies," Matt. 15:19. The heart is the motive center for all sin, and no sin was ever committed in act but that it was first meditated in the heart. This commandment may be transgressed in the privacy of the heart, and no one but the individual and God may know about it, but the guilt is there nonetheless.
THE PURPOSE OF THIS LAW
This law has as a primary purpose the restraint of carnal lusts, for it is a natural thing for the flesh to desire forbidden things. Indeed, part of what makes any sinful pursuit pleasing is the subconscious knowledge that it is a forbidden pleasure. Many sinful things are sinful simply because they are indulged without moderation, to the violation of the rights of others, in a wrong way, or at the wrong time, or for wrong purposes, etc. God has given to everyone the right to the joys and pleasures of married life, Gen. 2:18; Prov. 5:18-19; Eccl. 9:9; I Cor. 7:2, and this ought to be sufficient for everyone. However, the male homo-sapiens is a naturally polygamous creature that often seeks the fulfillment of his natural lusts, even to the violation of the rights of his fellow humans. Nor is the female any less subject to temptation, for though she may not be motivated by the reason the male is, yet she is still subject to temptation to violate this law. This law serves as a restrain upon this natural tendency by forbidding its practice. And while this law does not prevent the sin of adultery, it does make every violator of it amenable to justice for transgression, for it shows everyone the duty, and God’s threat for failure to properly respond to that duty.
But more than this, this seventh commandment is also given for the protection of the home, which is the basic unit of society. Time and time again the world has seen the sad result when the home ceased to be honored and respected. To this very day, one has only to look at any person that has come from a home where there were no moral values inculcated, and he will find the person is mentally disturbed, morally disreputable, and socially a liability. The welfare rolls all across this land of ours are filled with second and third generations of such people, many of them born illegitimately, and many families of which have no two members fathered by the same man. Where such is the case, the offspring are often lower bred mentally, morally and socially even than their progenitors. It is not the low living conditions that produces this state of affairs, for many people have lived their entire lives as poor people, yet maintained high morals. But it is the degrading effect of an adulterous lifestyle that produces this sad state of affairs. This is shown in Mal. 2:15 where it is stated that God made a man and wife one "that he might seek a godly seed," i. e., that the products of the home might be of a godly sort, and not a degenerate brood of adulterers and adulteresses.
Children naturally follow the example set by their parents, whom they by nature admire and seek to emulate. If the marriage relationship is perverted, whether by adulterous marriages and divorces, illicit sexual affairs, or whatever, the children will naturally, and perhaps unconsciously, absorb that same attitude. And will practice the same when they come to adulthood unless there is some offsetting teaching brought to bear upon them in the meantime.
Another purpose of this law is to protect the individual rights of the marriage partners, and to prevent the spirit of jealousy. One cannot read the Old Testament accounts of the individuals that had two or more wives without observing that this was almost always the result. There was constant strife between Leah and Rachel, between Hannah and Peninnah, and between the numerous wives of David. Every insight into the lives of polygamists reveals this spirit of jealousy. It could not be otherwise when God has so constituted man and woman to have but a single mate at a time. Rom. 13:9 sums up the duties of the second table of the Law as being the duty to love one’s neighbor as himself. The Greek word for "neighbor" means literally the one close by and no application of the word is more fitting than the application of it to husbands and wives. How could anyone claim to love as himself the one nearest him while pitting two mates of the same gender against one another in a polygamous marriage?
It is a fact that many of the murders that are committed in our day are the result of jealousy, much of it based upon the knowledge by one partner of the mate’s infidelity. Jealousy and infidelity are hard to be placated in any person, and are often removed only by the violent shedding of the blood of the guilty party. "But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonor shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away. For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts," Prov. 6:32-35.
In Numb. 5 an offering and a test is provided when there was the suspicion of adultery, and the suspected party was made to pronounce a curse against herself if she had committed adultery with another than her husband. If she was innocent, nothing came of it, but if she was guilty, the curse caused her to have a rotting disease. However, this did not apply where there were more than one wife, and where they were jealous of each other. This was a bad situation that simply had to be tolerated by all concerned. Nor could God be blamed, for never did He authorize polygamy. It was all the invention of lustful men who were operating contrary to God’s Law.
Another purpose of this law is to be seen in that this term "adultery" is often used to picture the apostasy of men from God. The word and its cognates are used almost as commonly in this spiritual sense as in connection with literal and physical adultery. Just as the relationship between husband and wife pictures the relationship subsisting between God and His redeemed people, so the sin of adultery pictures the guilt of apostasy of man from God, and is a forewarning of punishment to come. Israel’s idolatry was likened to adultery. "How weak is thine heart, saith the Lord God, seeing thou doest all these things, the work of an imperious whorish woman; In that thou buildest thine eminent place in the head of every way, and makest thine high place in every street; and hast not been as an harlot, in that thou scornest hire; but as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband!" Ezek. 16:30-32. The same language appears in James 4:4. "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." The God that says that His name is Jealous, will not tolerate those in a spiritual relation with Him adulterously entering into a love relationship with the world that is apostate from Him.
Many aspects of the marital relationship find exact counterparts in the spiritual realm, and so are meant to be pictorial representations of heavenly things. For this reason this warning, involving as it does the death penalty in some cases, also warns of spiritual death for violations of the spiritual relationship that is pictured by the physical relationship.
This is a far cry from the modern day practice of law, in which there is seldom even a statute upon the law books condemning this sin, much less the enforcement of it. But this is still a sin in God’s eyes, however man may justify it. And the day of punishment for all sin will soon come, and all of those that have sinned with no concern and with apparent impunity will be called to account for their sins. In immediate connection with the promise of the coming of the Lord to His temple, a coming like a refiner’s fire, God solemnly sounds a warning. "And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers. And against those that oppose the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts," Mal. 3:5.
Provision, however, is made in the case of a couple that marry but cannot get along, so that they are not compelled to endure their incompatibility or else be guilty of adultery through divorce and remarriage. Nor would a person be accounted guilty of adultery because of the sin of the other marriage partner. "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart, a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace," I Cor. 7:10-15.
This speaks of a relationship where one or the other of the partners is converted and becomes a Christian. The believer is not to seek separation from the unbelieving partner so long as they are able to live together peaceably. But should the unbelieving demand that the believing partner forsake her or his worship of the Lord or be forsaken by the unbelieving spouse, then the believer would not be under the obligation to compromise the truth for the sake of marital harmony. This does not give an exception to the Lord’s teachings in Matt. 19:9, for this deals only with separation, not with divorce or remarriage. When the question of remarriage come up, Paul’s word in V11 must be remembered.
Our Lord made the only exceptions to the law of marriage and divorce that would prevent it from being a case of legalized adultery. "And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery," Matt. 19:9. Whatsoever is more than this is sin, and the person who rests in it is guilty. However, it ought to be said in extenuation that sometimes one of the partners in marriage may be wholly innocent of guilt. He or she may have endeavored with all his or her strength and wisdom to make the marriage work, only to have the other partner perfidiously forsake the marriage relationship, get a divorce and marry someone else. What then? Is the one forsaken guilty? Is that one to consider himself or herself still bound in the marriage relationship? By no means! For if one partner deserts the other and obtains a divorce and remarries without the requisite justification, that one becomes guilty of adultery by marrying someone else, and supplies the one forsaken with a scriptural justification for being no longer married, and frees that one to remarry without guilt. For while all fornication is not adultery, all adultery is fornication. The word "fornication" is a more general term, and "adultery" is a more specific form of fornication. Fornication is any kind of illicit sexual relations outside of the marriage relation, while adultery relates specifically to sexual relations of some kind wherein one or both parties are married to someone else. And though this seventh command uses the more specific word, several New Testament texts show that the more general term is also a sin to be averted, Acts 15:28-29; I Cor. 6:13, 18-20; Eph. 5:3; I Thes. 4:3-5.
Our Lord’s provision clears the way for the innocent party to later marry again if the mate that deserts him or her marries another. For it is a manifest case of fornication when it is done, no matter if the civil courts do proclaim the divorce to be legal and even declare that no fault adheres to either party. The courts are often guilty of legalizing adultery. It has always appeared a strange thing that couples troop to the preacher to get married, but always go to the civil authorities to get a divorce. Could it be that this is, in most cases, a tacit confession that they know that they have no scriptural justification for divorce? It is true that the civil authorities have not given the authority to the ministry to dissolve marriages, but it might be well if they did, so that the divorce practices would not be so lax and the reasons so shallow.
Nor can a man or woman that wants out of a marriage refuse to grant to the other party the privileges of the marital bed, thereby encouraging the neglected party to become unfaithful so as to have a "scriptural excuse" for divorce. Scripture is clear beyond question that neither party has a right to diminish the rights of the other—except by the common consent of both, Exod. 21:15. This forbids a man from diminishing food, raiment or the duty of marriage of a first wife when he has taken a second wife. See this duty even more clearly set forth in I Cor. 7:2-5, where only mutual consent justifies abstention from the privileges of the marital bed. "Defraud" represents the same Greek word that Jesus used in Mark 10:19 when He restated some of the Ten Commandments. Sadly, marital partners sometimes wickedly try to manipulate the other partner into a guilty position for their own benefit. But God knows the hearts of such people, and will hold them guilty of double sins, or worse. For such are not only guilty of wanting to break their marriage covenant made before God, but of misrepresenting the mate, and then endeavoring to lead him or her into adultery in order to justify self. All this shows contempt of God’s Law.
It is clear that this law comprehends a great deal more than is commonly thought. For it not only declares guilty that back street affair of two persons not married to each other, but also indicts a great portion of the present world—many persons who are respectable (?) members of Christian (?) churches. And this law indicts our legal system that permits two people to be divorced with no more reason than that neither is willing to put out the effort needed to get along with the other. The parody of the unscrupulous "Marrying Sam" that will marry anyone for a price has a counterpart in the courts of the land. "Divorcing Pete" is the lawyer that makes his living by helping people violate the Seventh Commandment. What can be the end of such people? Are they any better than those that break this commandment in order to get out of a disagreeable marriage? Indeed not! Such are much worse, for they engage in it for the sake of filthy lucre, and nothing more. They allow themselves to be bribed with money to help others violate God’s holy Law.
Nothing can be said in justification of the man that, for his own ungodly pleasure, violates the marriage relationship of another man by leading his wife to be unfaithful to her husband. But at the same time, in God’s eyes, there is little difference in this and in the man or woman that divorces his or her spouse and remarries without the one scriptural reason. To both alike, as well as to the person that only sits and dwells in his mind upon such adulterous desires, the Scriptures say in thunderous tones "THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY!"
LAW VIII: "THOU SHALT NOT STEAL," V15.
The civil law of our land classifies stealing by two categories: petty theft and grand larceny. Thus, if a person steals an article worth, say ten dollars, he is not judged as guilty as the person that steals ten thousand dollars. However, God’s Law is based upon the thought back of the act, and so all stealing is grand theft in God’s eyes. This is so because all theft proceeds from a selfishness that violates the Golden Rule, Matt. 7:12, and holds in contempt God’s command that we are all to respect the rights of others to possess what they have obtained through honest effort.
From the human standpoint, stealing may be for several reasons. It may be because of desperate need, which is relatively rare. Because of laziness or an unwillingness to work for what one desires. Because of love of display that one might be admired for one’s possessions. Because of greed for gain, which is simply the root of all evil, I Tim. 6:10. Because of love of luxury coupled with an unwillingness to work for it and wait for it until it can be honestly obtained, It may be because of ambition to "keep up with the Jones," which springs from carnal pride. And there are others. However, basically, stealing is based upon two things: lack of consideration for others, and utter selfishness. No one could ever steal from someone else if he "loved his neighbor as himself," nor would he ever steal except that he held his own welfare as supreme above all others, and felt that all other people’s rights should be subservient to his own pleasure.
This commandment finds its basis in the right of personal ownership of material things. This being so, here is a refutation of the modern atheistic communistic theory that claims that only the state has ownership rights.
But like all the other commandments, this one is "exceeding broad," and it involves a great deal more than it is commonly thought. The following things may be considered in connection with this commandment—
THE PROHIBITION OF THIS LAW
First, let it be observed that the value of the thing stolen has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact of guilt in the matter. The fact of sin is the same if a person steals a candy bar or a million dollars. In our civil law this matter determines whether the crime shall be petty or grand larceny, but in the eyes of the Lord, a theft is a theft, whatever the value of the object stolen may be. God takes cognizance of the attitude back of the overt act—an attitude of utter unconcern for the rights of others, together with an almost idolatrous concern only for the promotion of selfish desires. All selfish actions that impoverish others falls under the condemnation of this law, and it matters not whether the individual so impoverished realizes that he has been impoverished or not. The person guilty of such action is guilty though no one but himself and God ever know it. And there may be guilt incurred through carelessness as well as by deliberate design. There may be theft committed through fraud as well as through force.
Nor is it alone stealing when one uses a falsified scale or measure, for it is possible to violate this commandment through sharp dealing, when that sharp dealing involves falsifying the nature of the article purchased, sold or traded. That becomes a double sin, for it violates this law as well as the one against bearing false witness. This is what the wise man declares when he says, "It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth," Prov. 20:14. In other words, while he is dickering for the article, the buyer finds much fault with it, and plays down its real worth, but when once he has made the trade and gone his way, he boasts of what a good buy he has made. Paul warned the Thessalonians of the danger of oppressing one another, for of all men, such practices are most reprehensible in those that claim to be saved persons. "That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified," I Thes. 4:6. A man may find loopholes in the laws of the land through which he may escape civil prosecution after having stolen from a fellow citizen, but there are no loopholes in God’s law. Selfish man may plunge through the Ten Commandments, apparently trampling them down or knocking them aside, but the day is coming in which he will stand before God to be judged for all such actions. How foolish he will then appear in selling his soul for only a few paltry dollars worth of the passing possessions of this earth when he might have been heir to inconceivable riches in the life beyond had he trusted the Lord instead of making an idol of material possessions!
This law also prohibits stealing, no matter who the victim may be. Often theft from some rich person is excused upon the ground that "He has so much that he’ll never miss what little I take." But this in no way excuses the thief, for it matters not that a rich man may have millions. It is still his, and therefore it is wrong for anyone else to forcibly or fraudulently take it. If everyone that was poorer than the rich man took this same attitude, then the rich man would be robbed of all that he had, for there are always more poor people than rich people. Nor does whether another obtained his riches by good or bad means affect the guilt of stealing from him. That is a matter between him and God alone. God has appointed no individual to judge and punish rich men for obtaining riches in wrong ways. Only the perverted reasoning of utterly selfish persons would ever think to excuse theft on these grounds.
A related sin, to which we have already had occasion to refer, is the theft from a company or corporation. This is also sometimes justified upon the ground that "It is only a big impersonal company, and I’m not stealing from anyone when I take something from the company." But this reasoning is also perverted, for every company and corporation is made up of investors that lose when the company loses, and therefore this cuts down on the amount of dividends that can be paid to its investors. Nor is this all, for the company must make up the losses incurred through such thefts, and therefore the individual consumers of the company’s products have to pay for the items stolen. It is estimated that multiplied millions of dollars worth of merchandise is stolen each year by company employees that reason thusly, and the company, in order to stay in business, must increase the price of their products in order to compensate for these losses. Thus, the thief is stealing from individuals however he may reason otherwise, and he is under the condemnation of this law.
This law also prohibits official stealing, or the use of one’s office to obtain money or possessions to which he is not entitled. This explains why sometimes a person will give up a much higher paying job in order to be elected to an office that pays a much smaller salary. How shameful and unmanly it is for any individual, in the guise of public service, to use his office to pick the pockets of the public coffers, perhaps even the pockets of the very ones that voted him into office. Thus, while ordinary stealing is evil, official stealing is worse, for it is hypocritical, for the thief cloaks himself in the robes of public service.
There is also the sin of governmental stealing, which is equally as reprehensible as any of the foregoing. Sometimes this type of thievery is committed in the name of the public good, but which may only be a means of purchasing votes for the politician at the expense of taking something from its rightful owner. For example, the law of Eminent Domain decrees that the government may take personal property to be used for public uses so long as a just compensation is given to the owner. However, it has sometimes happened that the owner had his property taken away and he was paid a price far below what he could have gotten for it on the open market. Where such is the case, it is an evident transgression of this eighth commandment. In justification it must be added however that it often happens that the seller and the governmental representative conspire to push the price up so that the government will have to pay more than the property is worth. Or, the seller may hold out for an unreasonable payment for the property simply to increase his own profit. These all are forms of stealing, and violate this commandment, for they involve fraud of one party or the other.
Another form of governmental stealing is taxation of the honest and hardworking citizen in order to support the lazy, the shiftless, and the otherwise unworthy person. Such penalizing of honest labor has always led eventually to the complete overthrow of all honest labor. Who wants to be constantly penalized for honest work when the lazy loafer is rewarded for his negligence?
Finally, this law prohibits the withholding of what is due from whom it is due. Thus, the wise man says, "Say not unto thy neighbor, Go, and come again and tomorrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee," Prov. 3:28. More clearly yet is Lev. 19:13. "Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning." Doubtless this enactment was made, not only that the poor might have each day’s wages as he needed them, but also lest the employer withhold the wages so long that he could finally force the employee to take a cut on them in order to get them at all. The Lord promises to hear the cries of those that are so defrauded of their just wages. "Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth," James 5:4.
This defrauding of others of their due even enters into the marital relationship, as we read in I Cor. 7:2-5. "Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power [Greek, exousiazo —to exercise authority] of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power [same Greek word as before] of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency." This is in a chapter most of which is given over to a discussion of marital duties. Marriage is ordained to satisfy the sexual needs of both parties, and to prevent fornication. So, as a general rule, every man and every woman is to have a mate. Both husbands and wives are to recognize that the other has rights that are due them, but these will differ depending on the gender. Neither the wife nor the husband has exclusive rights regarding their bodies, but the mate has equal rights. To recognize this is simply to practice the Golden Rule of Matt. 7:12 in this closest of human relations. For either to withhold their body from the other is defined as a defrauding of the other—a violation of the Decalog, as the Lord Himself said in Mark 10:19 where He used this same word. Abstinence from marital relations is permitted (1) only for a brief time, (2) by mutual consent, and (3) that they give themselves to fasting and prayer. For either partner to compel the other to abstain from marital relations except under these limited guidelines is to risk temptation because of lack of self-control (incontinency). This defrauding of a marriage partner is one of the few sins that is even possible for a married people to commit in the bedroom. See Heb. 13:4.
All these duties of not stealing do not apply to just the withholding of what is due to man, for God also indicts man for his stealing of what belongs to God. Man is notorious for his attempts to take unto himself the glory of salvation that belongs to God alone. Jesus says in Isa. 42:8 that He will not allow His glory to be taken by another. Whether one recognizes it or not, we all exist for God’s glory, and no one measures up to his purpose for existence unless he is living for the glory of God, Rom. 14:7-9. This has many different aspects to it, for God claims the ownership of all souls, Ezek. 18:4, the whole earth, Ps. 24:1, the beasts, both wild and domestic, Ps. 50:10-11, silver and gold, Hag. 2:8, and the tithe, Lev. 27:30-34. In regard to this last, Mal. 3:8-9 is quite express. "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation." How many otherwise good people are guilty of the transgression of this eighth commandment on this count alone? In a sense, the tithe is simply the sharecropper’s debt to the Lord that owns all things. God has given His people all things richly to enjoy, I Tim. 6:17. Is it too much for Him to ask that we return ten percent in acknowledgement of all His material blessings?
THE PRESCRIPTION OF THIS LAW
Like all the other commandments of the Moral Law, this one has a positive as well as a negative side to it. It is only implied in the verbal expression in this place, but we find this law restated in other words in several places, and these often set forth the positive side of it. This law not only prohibits the dishonest acquiring of other people’s possessions, but it also prescribes honest labor for one’s own needs, and in order to help others. "Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men," Rom. 12:17. "Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men," II Cor. 8:21. "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth," Eph. 4:28.
Thus honest labor is prescribed for all men, but this last passage has a number of noteworthy things in it. First, even manual labor is enjoined rather than for one to be guilty of stealing. How this indicts the many shiftless loafers that justify their remaining upon the welfare rolls or even stealing by claiming that manual labor is demeaning and beneath their dignity. It was six days out of every seven that was decreed by God in the Law to take care of all man’s needs, Exod. 20:9. No honest labor is degrading, but all leeching off the wages of honest men is degrading. Second, this labor is to be characterized by "that which is good." Some men put out much effort upon dishonest occupations, but that does not fulfill the prescription of this law. Third, the Christian is to labor honestly instead of being a thief or a parasite "that he may have to give to him that needeth." Of all men, Christians ought to be characterized most by liberality, for they have themselves already received so much, and they have yet infinitely more promised to them in the hereafter.
This law then prescribes that all of a man’s needs are to be provided for by honest labor. Whatever goes beyond this becomes sin. But what if one puts forth his best efforts and still is not able to accumulate all that he desires? Here is where self-denial must come in. Part of the necessary discipline of this life is the cultivation of self-denial. Denial of self in order to match one’s wages to one’s desires is good practical training for everyone. On the other hand, indulging one’s desires only serves to whet one’s appetite for more things so that the self-indulgent never are able to satisfy all their desires. The more that self-indulgence is fed, the more it grows and desires. Today we live in the most affluent society of all time, and yet today people are less satisfied than ever before, proving that mere possessions cannot satisfy, Eccl. 5:10-12. Previous generations got by on much less, and enjoyed it much more.
The positive side of this law enjoins honest labor to fulfill one’s need, self denial to limit one’s desires to one’s ability to fulfill that need, and a readiness to use any surplus for the needs of those that are truly needy and unable to supply their own needs. To many people, making money has become an end in itself, and they become practical idolaters, for "the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows," I Tim. 6:10. And covetousness—the Greek word means literally the desire for more—is idolatry, Col. 3:5. But if money-making is kept in its proper place, as a means—not to make faith unnecessary—nor simply to gratify self—but as an instrument for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God, then it is not an evil, but becomes an instrument of good.
This prescription to labor honestly for the fulfillment of one’s needs finds its basis in the Garden of Eden. "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return," Gen. 3:17-19. One of the calamities of the fall was that man would henceforth be required to labor for his daily needs, for no more would the earth bountifully produce of itself. All of man’s attempts to get around laboring for his daily needs are simply his futile attempts to circumvent the curse that he brought upon himself by his sin. His attempt to do so can never eventuate in anything but failure, and he may add to the curse in the process if he turns to stealing.
THE PRESUMPTION OF THIS LAW
Several things are taken for granted in this law, and they actually form a basis for it. For instance, individual rights are presumed, for there could be no stealing if there were no individual property rights. The communistic scheme of property right might claim to prevent stealing, but if the individual is compelled to surrender his property so as to make it community property, then that itself is stealing—stealing by the constituted authorities. It is true that immediately after the resurrection and ascension of Christ the Jerusalem church practiced community of property for a time, Acts 4:32, yet this was a purely voluntary matter. There was no compulsion at all, as is evident from Acts 5:4. However, this system of things was temporary and soon passed away, and the example of it is not binding upon believers.
Individual property rights are a great incentive to honest labor, so that each person may gain as much as he is personally able to acquire. But the communistic view of property discourages personal ambition and endeavor, and promotes in its place laziness and sloth. From the very beginning, individual property rights have been the order of things, and this law against stealing is a clear evidence of this. This eighth commandment is meant to protect the right of every person to have and to hold property.
But not only does it presume the right to have property, this law also presumes the necessity of laboring to acquire such property. It is evident that in Eden the garden brought forth bountifully for the first pair, so that they had no need to put forth tiring labor in order to have their needs met. But after they sinned a part of the curse was that they must henceforth extract their needs from an unwilling earth by "the sweat of thy face." In so laboring, the individual acquires certain rights to the fruits of his labors that no one has the right to take from him by either force or fraud, and if any person does this, he becomes guilty of the transgression of this law.
This law is one of the few of the ten that does not enjoin the death penalty for the transgression of it. The one exception is that in the case a person was caught stealing another person, i. e., kidnapping, to use a modern term. He could be put to death, Exod 21:16; Deut. 24:7. Otherwise, the presumption was that the thief had the potential ability to restore what he had taken, and so the penalty for stealing involved reparation with additional compensation required as a fine. "If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double," Exod. 22:1-4.
From this passage we observe the following: (1) The thief had to pay a fine of four or five times the value of the merchandise stolen if caught after killing or selling the stolen item, V1. (2) Provision was made that if the thief were killed while robbing, the one that killed him would be accounted guiltless, provided this happened at night, V2. (3) But if the thief were sought out later and killed out of revenge, then the killer would be guilty of murder, V3. (4) If the thief had no way to pay his fine, then he was to be sold into seven years of bondage in order to pay his fine, V3f. (5) If the stolen item was recovered alive and whole, the thief was only fined double the price of the stolen article, V4.
From this enactment it is clear that the Lord made no provision for the coddling of thieves. This law presumed that not even poverty justified a person in stealing. What a far cry from the childish reasoning of people today in this matter! Provision was made for the poor to be helped by his brethren, but if any person held in contempt the property rights of others and stole from them, he became guilty and was subject to punishment. Even hunger did not justify a man in stealing. "Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry; but if he be found he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house," Prov. 6:30-31. It is notable here that the fine has now increased from four or fivefold to sevenfold. This may be accounted for by the fact that by Solomon’s time, God had given a much greater revelation of the duties of man, and consequently with the increase of revelation, there is a corresponding increase in responsibility.
This eighth law takes full cognizance of individual property rights, and makes full provision for the protection of them. It prohibits all forms of theft and fraud, and prescribes honest labor as the means for the fulfillment of man’s needs and desires, and provides for very stiff fines and even sale into bondage where there was the transgression of this law. One other thing is observable in this matter: the fine was paid to the person from whom the article was originally stolen, instead of to the civil authorities as today. The victim of a theft today may be the loser, even thought the thief is caught, if the stolen property has already been disposed of. Biblical law made full provision for recompensing the victim of a thief, and not just for the punishing of the thief.
There are many persons today that make a business of violating this commandment, for many lawyers are hired for no other reason than to find loopholes in laws and in contracts whereby they may defraud others of their money or possession. Nevertheless, God’s Moral Law will not be long pushed aside, and will be the judge of all such men in a future day.
"In vain we call old notions fudge
And band our conscience to our dealing.
The Ten Commandments will not budge,
And stealing will continue stealing."
—James Russell Lowell
LAW IX: "THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS AGAINST THY NEIGHBOR," V16.
The meaning of this commandment has been unnecessarily limited in most people’s minds, for most people associate this commandment with the giving of testimony under oath in a court of law. However, this commandment is much broader than this, and actually covers all forms of lying and false speaking. To restrict its meaning, as many attempt to do, is to cut its very heart out, and render it all but void. The broadness of this commandment is to be seen in that, like all the other commandments, it is both negative and positive—both prohibiting and prescribing.
It is a very thought-provoking comment upon this sin and its origin, that our Lord declares that the devil spoke the first lie, and that he is the father of all subsequent lies. "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it," John 8:44. This statement ought to leave no doubt in any person’s mind as to the character of all forms of falsehood, and should therefore be a solemn warning against the making of any falsehood.
THE PROHIBITION OF THIS LAW
In endeavoring to determine what is prohibited by this law, it is noteworthy, first of all, that this is the expressed thought of this commandment, for it is a negative precept. As we have said, most people think that this deals only with the official bearing of a false testimony in a court of law, and this is certainly included in this law. Yet it cannot be restricted to this except by doing the utmost violence to this commandment. The civil magistrate is a divinely ordained officer for the protection of the lawful, and for the punishment of the lawless, and he is permitted to put men under oath in order to determine the right and wrong of any given situation. Any time, therefore, that a person swears falsely under oath he is guilty of the transgression of this commandment, as well as of holding the Lord in contempt, for such a person tries to make God a partner in his deception. Thereby one may be guilty of transgressing both the third and ninth commandments. This is implied in Lev. 19:11-12. "Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another. And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord."
This commandment prohibits lying in general, for every lie, no matter what form it may take, is still a false witness, and is a sin against one’s fellowman, for it is meant to deceive, and will therefore do some harm at best, and may do great harm. The apostle to the Gentiles mentions this commandment and others as being specifically comprehended in the saying "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," Rom. 13:9. This manifests that any false witness will have a detrimental effect upon others, and cannot be in their highest interest. This is true for several reasons. (1) Their believing an untruth may work to their spiritual, mental, moral, physical or financial distress. (2) They may be made the unwitting instrument of the propagation of a falsehood. (3) Their own character may suffer because they accept as truth what was in reality a lie. (4) They will, upon learning that it was a lie and not the truth, be certainly made to feel less confidence in the one that told the lie. (5) If that one was a professing Christian, he may become a serious stumbling block to a weaker brother. These reasons, and many more, make it evident that no one can be knowingly guilty of bearing false witness to another if he has that one’s best interests at heart.
Then a third thing prohibited by this law is the use of exaggeration in speaking. The story is told of a preacher that had a bad habit of exaggerating, and some of his deacons, being concerned about the possible fruits of this, spoke to him, cautioning him to be moderate in this. His reply was, "You are right, of course, and I’ve shed barrels of tears in remorse for my weakness in this matter." In time, one’s exaggerations brings all of his statements into question, and is a reproach upon the individual’s religion, for if a man’s religion does not make him more honest, he will make it less respectable.
One is often guilty of bearing false witness against another by using words of double meaning without explaining what is meant by them. When words of double meaning are used, almost invariably the gossip will take for granted that the worst possible meaning is the one intended. And when passing along the tale, will be certain to reword it so that there is no doubt but that the worse meaning is meant, and so the honest character of an innocent person may be besmirched for life.
Again, this commandment is transgressed by suggestive hints, and even by untimely silence. An illustration of the former would be if someone should excitedly ask, "Have you heard about Mr. ——?" "No! What did he do?" "Well, I’m not one to spread gossip, but I certainly would never have thought it of him." Thus, a great doubt has been planted in the mind of the hearer, and he will immediately assume the very worst thing imaginable about the subject spoken of by the first party. Not only so, but he will probably ask questions about it until a doubt, a question or two, and someone else’s vivid imagination will make out a good case against someone that may be guilty of no more than sneezing in church.
The second case spoken of above is that of guilty silence. Someone hears a rumor being circulated about an absent person, but instead of speaking up and killing the rumor on the spot, or at least discouraging the gossiping, he says nothing and the falsehood races on. Often an innocent person’s good reputation could be saved by someone speaking up and defending him in the face of the rumor until all the facts are known. Very few gossips want to face the subject of their tale-bearing and get the truth, and an invitation to clarify the matter by personal confrontation will usually get a very strongly negative response, which shows how little faith the gossip has in his own stock in trade.
Another very common transgression of this commandment is in what is commonly called joking. "As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows and death, So is the man that deceiveth his neighbor, and saith, Am not I in sport?" Prov. 26:18-19. One of the things that is not so much as even to be named among saints is "foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks," Eph. 5:4. Granted, the "jesting" here is not so much innocent humor as it is what is commonly called "dirty jokes." But nonetheless too many Christians bring the truth into reproach by the excessive levity of their lives, and do not hesitate to pervert the truth for the sake of amusement. Indeed, some preachers are more renowned for their humor in the pulpit than for their holiness and sound doctrine. In the Day of Judgment it will not be sufficient to say, "I was just joking," for if the truth has been perverted, whatever the reason may have been, this ninth commandment will bear witness against it.
Then again men may bear false witness by preaching a false doctrine, for preached falsehood does more harm than almost any other kind, for it is expected that the preacher of all men will be honest and will have the highest interests of his hearers at heart. For this very reason, the preacher will be more apt to be believed without question than any other person. Paul makes this application to the doctrine of the resurrection, which some of the Corinthians had rejected. "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not," I Cor. 15:14-15. Doubtless great numbers of preachers will be indicted by this law in the Day of Judgment for their heretical and damnable introduction of false and soul-destroying doctrines.
Finally, a person may be guilty of bearing false witness by the life that he lives, for hypocrisy is nothing less than living a lie—bearing false witness by one’s conduct. This truth is borne out in I John 1:6. "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth." In evil conduct we lie louder than in any other way, for while many things may qualify and even mitigate what we say, what we do manifests the true character of a person. Some of our Lord’s most denunciatory teachings were directed against the hypocrisy of those that claimed to be God’s people but lived a contrary lifestyle. Jesus said of the Pharisees, "Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity," Matt. 23:28.
It should be obvious to all that this ninth commandment prohibits much more than is generally assumed, for all of these Scriptures that we have noted apply to this matter. But what about the positive side of this commandment? What is enjoined by it? Let us consider—
THE PRESCRIPTION OF THIS LAW
This law prescribes the constant speaking of the truth, and not only that, but also the speaking of the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The oath that is administered in the courts of the land is well worded, and expresses what this law enjoins. That every word that a person speaks shall be answered for is evident from the Lord’s words in Matt. 12:36-37. "But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." Not only so, but the following Scriptures also have bearing upon the positive side of this commandment. "But let your communication be. Yea, Yea: Nay, Nay, For whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." (The definite article precedes "evil" in the inspired text, and so is literally "the evil one"—the devil, the father of lies—as in John 8:44.) "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man," Col. 4:6. "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another," Eph. 4:25.
Nor are these all the passages that enjoin truthfulness in all speech, for the Bible abounds with them, but these are a sampling. These were spoken to saved persons, but they are the positive side of that which the ninth commandment sets forth negatively as a standard for all men. Truthful speech in all things is a matter of morality, and so is binding upon all men without regard to whether they are believers or not, and those that profane this commandment will be accountable in the Day of Judgment. As we have before remarked the keeping of this law in no way affects a person’s eternal destiny, but it does affect the degree of his recompense in whatever state he will eternally remain.
The positive side of this law then prescribes the careful control of the tongue, for this small boneless member sustains the character of a tiger—it is untamable. It may be controlled, but it can never be tamed. Thus James says, in the course of a lengthy discussion of the tongue that "the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison," James 3:8. Doubtless its untamable nature gives explanation why God placed it behind a set of strong enamel bars—so that it could be kept caged at all times. There is an ancient proverb that says, "While the word is yet unspoken, you are master of it. When once it is spoken, it is master of you." No one has an excuse for any sort of ungodly talk or untruthful speech on the plea that "I just can’t control my tongue," for every one comes equipped with doors whereby he may shut the tiger in and prevent evil from being let loose.
It is also evident from James 3:2-6 that this sin is easier to commit than any other sin. "For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and is set on fire of hell." No comment is needed upon these verses, and little is left to say of the evil of an unhallowed speech, and therefore it is easily seen why the Lord gave this law to man. But it is not enough to sit in silence so as to refrain the tongue from evil; something more is needed. Negatively, man is not to speak falsehood in any form, but positively, he is enjoined to always speak the truth in love, Eph. 4:15.
For the Christian this law has a special importance inasmuch as lying is manifestly from the evil one, John 8:44; Matt. 5:37. Falsehood, as a part of the old nature, is to be put away by the new man. "But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" Col. 3:8-10.
But what is enjoined in this law does not come naturally to the new man, for he is still united to the corrupt fleshly nature that is irreformable; for this reason we must follow the example of the Psalmist. He prayed, "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips," Ps. 141:3. The mind and the tongue, being of the fleshly nature of man, will always in this world be characterized by the corruptness of the flesh, and so will have to be kept under the ironclad control of the spirit. If this is not done, then punishment must of necessity follow, which brings us to consider—
THE PUNISHMENT OF THIS LAW
We have already cited Matt. 12:36 which forecasts a coming Day of Judgment for all idle words, and therefore, none can doubt that the punishment for the transgression of this law is a sure and certain one. Neither is this unjust, for all reasoning minds, whether pagan or Christian, see the evil of all falsehood and evil speaking. Titus Maccius Plautus (254-184 B. C.), a pagan writer, once said that "Those men who carry about, and those who listen to, slanders, should, if I could have my way, all be hanged; the tattlers by their tongues, the listeners by their ears." (Quoted by B. H. Carroll, ibid, 216).
Sins of the tongue are generally considered the least serious of all, but in reality they may be as harmful as any, and there shall be punishment meted out to the false tongue. It is noteworthy that of seven things that are an abomination to the Lord, three of them are sins of the mouth. "These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren," Prov. 6:16-19. And if these are abominations unto the Lord, we may be sure that they will be punished to the full extent of their desert. This is declared by Inspiration. "A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape …he that speaketh lies shall perish," Prov. 19:5, 9.
It is a fact that is clear from observation that the liar destroys his own reputation and honor by his lies. To this the Psalmist refers when he says, "For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness: their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue. Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels: cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions: for they have rebelled against thee," Ps. 5:9-10. But false witness bears other fruit than the fruit of self-destruction, as the Psalmist is also inspired to testify. "Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing [Hebrew ‘lies,’ as the word is more commonly rendered, Ps. 40:4, etc.]: The Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man," Ps. 5:6.
But not only is there the warning of destruction from the Lord for all liars, but God ordained that there was to be civil fines for all false witnesses where personal property was concerned. Thus the one guilty of lying concerning a borrowed item, or concerning an item found, or concerning something obtained through deceitful dealing, was to restore the item, and add twenty percent to the value of it. Then he had to bring one of the more expensive trespass offering for his sin, which in itself might be more costly than the item that he lied to keep. Only then was he assured of forgiveness for his sin, Lev. 6:1-7.
Where the false witnessing concerned the welfare of another person, a different law applied. "If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; and the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; then shall ye do unto him as he had thought to have done unto his brother; so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you," Deut. 19:16-20. Such a law, if diligently applied today, would certainly eliminate much of the perjury in the courts of the land.
But passing beyond this present time and place, we find an even more solemn warning given against lying and bearing false witness. In a Psalm that looks forward to the Lord second advent, we have this word. "Whoso privily slandereth his neighbor, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will I not suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight. I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord," Ps. 101:5-8. To be shut out of the Lord’s blessed millennial kingdom will be one of the greatest earthly losses that a man can suffer, but this will be the portion of all liars and false witnesses.
But even more than this is promised to the liar and false witness. Not only does he lose an earthly paradise by his evil speaking, but he is confined in hell for eternity. "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers [fornicators], and sorcerers [Greek pharmakos = drug addicts], and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death… And there shall in no wise enter into it [the New Jerusalem, the home of all the saved] any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life," Rev. 21:8, 27. "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have a right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie," Rev. 22:14-15.
But more than just having to endure the torments of an eternal hell is involved, for it seems likely that there will be a special torment for all liars and slanderers and false witnesses, as the Psalmist declares. "Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue. What shall be given unto thee? Or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper," Ps. 120:2-4. It must be remembered that when the wicked are finally cast into the lake of fire, they will have been reunited with their resurrected bodies, so that this could literally be the torment of the tongues of the false witness and liar. What more appropriate punishment than a constant piercing of the tongue with arrows and heaping hot coals upon it? After all, it is set on fire of hell, James 3:6, so it only right that it experience hell.
Though the death penalty is not decreed for the violation of this law, as it is for several of the others, yet the punishment for the violation of it is nonetheless a very solemn one, and it bespeaks the seriousness of this sin. Lies and false witness originate with the devil himself, and they can never have any other character than that of devilishness and evil. How needful that all people learn to "put away lying, and speak every man truth with his neighbor," Eph. 4:25. "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips," Ps. 141:3.
LAW X: "THOU SHALT NOT COVET," V17.
This tenth and last commandment differs from all of the others that have gone before it, in that it deals with a state of mind rather than with some actual deed. It is true that all the sinful deeds that are condemned by the Decalog originate in the heart of man as Jesus says. "For from within, out of the heart of man, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile a man," Mark 7:21-23. But covetousness is a sin that may never be outwardly manifested by any deed, yet it is still condemned as evil by the all-seeing eye of God, and the person that indulges in it is made liable to judgment though no human may realize his thought.
There are seven Greek words in the New Testament that are translated "covetous" or one of its cognates. Yet of these, only one is used in a good sense, I Cor. 12:31; 14:39, and this one (zeloo) means literally ‘to be zealous," Rev. 3:19, or "to desire," as in I Cor. 14:1. The more common words translated "covetous" or "covetousness" (Greek, pleonektes, pleonexia, and philarguros) are always used in an evil sense, which, in itself, ought to be a warning against the attitude of covetousness. This commandment, more than most of the others, indicts all people of breaking the Law of God.
This law becomes especially applicable to us today when we consider the forewarnings of the covetous nature of people in the end times. It is written: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous…," II Tim. 3:1-2. "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you… And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you," II Pet. 2:1, 3. "Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children," II Pet. 2:14.
This tenth commandment takes the form of a summary, or rounding out of all that has proceeded it, so that not only is it related to the preceding nine, but it also covers almost all sins that are not expressly covered by the other nine. This commandment, differing as it does from the others, must be considered more extensively, and from a different approach. We note therefore—
THE PURPOSE OF THIS LAW
First of all, this law is intended to make men more spiritual by turning their eyes away from worldly things and unto spiritual things. It is in the nature of mankind to delight in worldly, material things, for by our birth into the world we are world-oriented, and this is manifest in worship also. For this reason, our Lord declared that, "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth," John 4:23-24. Conversely, warning is given against emphasizing the worldly and material creation which, in the nature of things, must pass away. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes [that is what covetousness is], and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever," I John 2:15-17.
Covetousness always has a degrading effect upon the person that entertains it, and, unless it is strenuously resisted, it will lead to worse sins. It is a fact that all sin comes either through the avenue of the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eye or the pride of life, or through a combination of these. In Eve’s case it was a combination of all three. "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food"—the lust of the flesh—"and that it was pleasant to the eyes"—the lust of the eyes—"and a tree to be desired to make one wise"—the pride of life—"she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat," Gen. 3:6. The same thing is true in the case of Achan, the troubler of Israel. He confessed, "When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonian garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it," Josh. 7:21. The same pattern is discernable in David’s sin with Bathsheba. For first "he saw a woman washing herself," and then he desired her, for "the woman was very beautiful to look upon," and then "David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her," II Sam. 11:2, 4.
In all of these cases we see a common pattern. First, temptation is presented, yet temptation itself does not involve sin unless it is yielded to. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him," James 1:12. But if a person yields to the temptation and covets the object presented in the temptation then he "is drawn away of his own list, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death," James 1:14-15. Here then is the key to prevention of lust, sin and death. Never let covetousness gain a foothold, for it is the first step of temptation and sin. Thus, this tenth commandment contains the key to spirituality and victory over temptation.
The Lord Jesus warned about an over-emphasis upon material possessions when He said, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth," Luke 12:15. A great deal of emphasis was put by the Lord upon His disciples having the proper outlook on the possessions of this world. Many of His parables illustrated this, so that someone has said that He taught more on this subject than on almost any other. This is understandable when we realize that every person’s spirituality can be gauged reasonably accurately by his attitude toward material possessions.
Secondly, this law is given in order to guard against greed, for while there are many forms of covetousness, they are all basically related, being founded almost entirely upon self-interest. "Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows," I Tim. 6:6-10.
From this portion we should note: (1) Godliness is the chief thing to be sought. (2) Money, and the things it can buy, ought to be recognized as time creatures only—we brought nothing into to the world, and we shall take nothing out of the world. They are for this world’s use only. (3) We ought to be content with our needs only. (4) Covetousness—"they that wish to be rich" (as this may be correctly rendered)—causes men to fall into temptation, snares and lusts that destroy men’s bodies and souls. (5) Many evils spring from—not money, but —the love of money. (6) The pursuit of money has led many into heresy. (7) This same covetousness is also unprofitable, for it causes sorrow to all that are ensnared therein.
B. H. Carroll has taken V10 above and shown that men violate every one of the Ten Commandments through a love of money, thereby manifesting the truth of this statement. His excellent remarks upon this are too lengthy to transcribe, but the interested reader is referred to his comments upon the tenth commandment in his Interpretation of the English Bible, Vol. II, p.223ff.
From I Tim. 6:10 another purpose of this law against covetousness is manifest. The words "which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith," show that this law prohibts covetousness in order to prevent apostasy from the faith. Countless persons in the past have compromised their faith solely for the sake of material gain and an even greater number of people are doing so today. The present evil age is the most affluent that has ever been so far as the generality of people are concerned, yet never before has covetousness been so common-place. Even those that are supposedly God’s people have few qualms about getting material possessions in any way they can.
Another purpose of this law, or rather an extension of the above purpose, is to prevent idolatry, for this is always the logical result of covetousness. Indeed, covetousness is itself an act of idolatry. In Luke 16:13 the Lord declares, "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." The whole purpose of Jesus’ teaching on this subject was to show that covetousness quickly becomes idolatry in that one serves Mammon, the money god by covetousness. The covetous Pharisee perceived that this was directed at them, and they scoffed at Him.
But even more expressly is declared the idolatry of being covetous in Eph. 5:5. "For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." And again, the testimony of Col. 3:5 is, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry." Many people assume that the rich person can easily worship his money, but they overlook the fact that these passages do not put the name of idolatry upon the possession of wealth, but rather upon the desire for it. Hence, the poorest person in the world could as easily be guilty of this sin of idolatry through covetousness as a rich person could.
Finally this commandment is meant to teach people to trust in the Lord. Covetousness and trust in the Lord are mutually exclusive. They cannot abide in the same person. If a person is covetous, it is obvious that he does not trust the Lord for his daily needs. On the other hand, if a person is trustful of the Lord, he finds no need for the constant desire for further gain. Thus a curse is pronounced upon the person that covets gain in order that he may trust in it to deliver him from evil. "Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil," Hab. 2:9. Scripture says, "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee," Heb. 13:5.