These small group studies take us through almost twenty of the key events in the Old Testament. Our Old Testament Survey contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Old Testament Survey Lesson 9 – Ten Commandments

Exodus 20:1-17 (See also parts of Chapter 19 for background)

  1. The Ten Commandments (1-17)

    1. The Giver: God (1-2)

    2. Commandments about our relationship with God (3-11)

      1. He is First (Polytheism) (3)

      2. He is Supreme (Idols) (3-6)

      3. He is to be honored (Swearing) (7)

      4. He is to be worshiped (8-11)

        1. The model: Creation (11)

    3. Commandments about our relationship to people (12-17)

      1. Honor parents (12)

      2. Do not murder (13)

      3. Do not commit adultery (14)

      4. Do not steal (15)

      5. Do not lie (16)

      6. Do not covet (17)


Who is the one who gives these commands?

Why is this passage so important?

How would you summarize these commands? (Love the Lord your God…)

Is it possible to keep them all?

These commands were given to the Israelites in the wilderness under the Old Covenant. Are they still applicable to us? Why or why not?

What New Testament principles relate to these commands?

What two general groups can these commands be divided into? Any other divisions? (positive and negative commands)

What does it mean that we should have no other gods before God? (He must be first.)

What are some examples of other gods that many people have? (Self, money, job, girls)

What is the basis for the command about idols? Why doesn’t God want people to make idols?

What does it mean that we are not to take God’s name in vain? What are some examples where His name is taken in vain? So how should we use God’s name? (Swearing, exclamations of surprise, disrespectful references such as “the old man upstairs”, blasphemy, silly talk. Remember what the Israelites did to protect God’s name from inappropriate use.)

What do you think is and isn’t allowed on the Sabbath (at that time)?

Do we need to apply it today? Why or why not?

Is there a principle in it we can apply today? (work-rest division, holy time set apart to serve God)

What is significant about the command in verse 12? (first one with a promise)

Have you ever murdered anyone? What about by God’s standard?

Have you ever committed adultery? What about by God’s standard?

Is there ever an acceptable time to lie? Why or why not?

What is coveting?


Matthew 22:37-40 (Summary commandment. Love God and neighbors fully.)

John 4:24 (Worship God in spirit and truth.)

Romans 1:18-23 (People rejected God’s truth for lies and worshiped created idols.)

James 3:9-12 (It is hypocrisy for believers to swear or curse.)

Mark 3:4 (Lawful to do good or harm on the Sabbath?)

Mark 2:27 (The Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath)

Ephesians 6:2 (Honor parents is the first command with a promise.)

Matthew 5:21-22 (Jesus expounds on the command not to murder)

Matthew 5:27-30 (Jesus expounds on the command not to commit adultery.)

James 5:12 (Yes is to be yes and no is to be no. For believers this should be enough.)

Psalms 15:4 (Swears to his own hurt and does it.)

Matthew 15:19 (Evil things come out of the heart.)

1 Peter 2:1 (We are to put aside envy.)



This is an extremely important section of Scripture. In the preceding chapter God told Moses He wanted to establish the covenant with the people of Israel and wanted them to be a holy nation before Him, obeying Him. The Ten Commandments were the base of the Israelites’ responsibilities toward God. Under the Old Covenant the Israelites were under the Law, the Ten Commandments being a bastion of that law. They were responsible to keep these commands and many others. God’s purpose was to show that no one can keep even the basic commands of His standard. In the New Testament the attitudes Christ called us to were laid out in Matthew 5 in the Beattitudes. In the Old Testament, the lifestyle the Israelites were supposed to live were laid out in the Ten Commandments. These are still considered the basic set of instructions from God to us. As we follow the Ten Commandments, as laid out here, and further expounded upon by Jesus, we will be practically keeping the whole law. The Israelites acceptance of these commandments would have showed their willingness to accept God’s covenant.

From these commands we can see a lot about God and His standard. He is concerned with every area of life including worship, family, truth, virtue, life, property, and time. He is a holy God and He has high standards for His people. We can never reach them, but that is why He sent the Messiah. These commandments are divided into two basic categories, our relationship to God, and our relationship to other humans. They can also be grouped (although a different order) into positive commands (you should do this) and negative commands (do not do this). The Christian life also can be divided along both of these lines.

As we go through this, remember that this is the system which God’s people followed for over a thousand years. People always have been and always will be saved by faith as they realize that of their own selves they can never keep God’s commands. Also, over time people reduced these commands to external practices and rituals. This was soundly condemned by Jesus, who taught that these commands were meant to be followed externally and internally.

All but the command about the Sabbath were repeated after Pentecost (In fact it was nullified, Col 2:16-17). It is clear that these were not culturally sensitive commands, but they are universal and apply everywhere. Why would the command about the Sabbath be different? We have some evidence from Jesus directly that showed people did not understand this commandment correctly. Also, the other commands were repeated. However, there were some eternal principles from this command as well such as to set aside a time to worship the Lord and to have a work-rest division.

Verse 2:

Who is giving these commands? It is Yahweh, the One who brought them out of Egypt. He is powerful and loving. He is sovereign and merciful. He is the One true God of the universe and deserves His people’s obedience. When the sovereign God of the universe talks; people had better listen. These are not commands to be taken lightly.

Command 1: (Positive example: Joshua. Negative example: Solomon)

The Israelites were living in the midst of numerous pagan people groups who worshiped false gods. The nations around them were polytheistic and had numerous idols and gods. As we looked at before, Egypt had a god for almost everything. It would have been very easy for the Israelites to fall into this trap and start worshiping other gods. God stressed this command because He knew His people. They would often fall into sin in this area in the future. Because they were surrounded by false gods the temptation was strong. Throughout Israel’s history whenever it neglected God to serve idols it began to encounter serious problems. God gives commands and there are also consequences for breaking those commands.

God is an orderly God and there is probably a reason He put this command first. Because God is the Supreme Being in the universe and we were created in His image, worshiping Him with our whole heart is our first obligation. Not doing so is the greatest possible sin we can commit.

There a number of applications we can make from this important verse. Firstly, God is to be first in our lives. He is to be number one. Positively speaking, we need to serve Him with our whole heart and our whole mind. We should ask ourselves if the things we are doing in this life are to His glory and serve to spread the kingdom. Negatively speaking, we shouldn’t put anything ahead of Him. Anything that takes God’s rightful place as holding our central feelings of affection, our central use of time, our central support in times of crisis, our central advice-giver, or anything else is a god and should be reduced to its proper role. We make gods out of many things including spouse, money, family, job, and entertainment.

Also we should clearly never worship or even appear to be worshiping false gods. Bowing down, praying to, or burning incense to Buddha or ancestors is unacceptable and is the most grievous sin we can commit (with the possible exception of blaspheming the Holy Spirit). Some have argued that it would be ok just to appear to be bowing down. This will cause us to lose our testimony and is a form of compromise. We should avoid even the appearance of evil (Daniel and his three friends). Let us put God in the rightful place as first in our lives.

Command 2: (Positive example: Hezekiah. Negative example: Rachel, Gideon)

This command is very closes related with the first and is even considered one and the same by Catholics. How foolish it would be to make or buy an idol and then worship it instead of God. Idols cannot see, hear, or feel. They are blind and have no power. This should be clear to any reasonable person yet hundreds of millions of people around the world have household idols. This is clear and we would all agree it is wrong to have idols. However, to some people televisions, computers, or video games become idols. The Israelites fell into this sin time and time again. God told them ahead of time that He was jealous and that there would be consequences for idol worship. When they fell into idol worship they were quickly conquered by foreign nations. For us, it is sin to be jealous because we don’t deserve anyone’s loyalty or affection. But for God, He deserves this and it rightfully belongs to Him. Therefore it is not sin. Once again, here we see God’s justice and God’s mercy side by side.

Moses made it clear in other places that nobody is judged for the sins of the parents (Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9). Yet the sins of the parents do affect the children. Natural consequences follow. For example when parents have aids often the children do too. If the parents are weak in one area often the children follow suit and are weak in that area as well. If the parents worshipped idols it is probably that the children would as well. This made it all the more important for parents to set good examples and train up their children in the right way.

Command 3:

Any inappropriate use of God’s name that brings disrespect or tarnishes it in any way is taking His name in vain. God and His name are Holy. He is to be treated with respect at all times. As we know, names were very important in Bible times. Bringing down somebody’s name would have been similar to bringing down their very character. The positive application is to always bring respect and glory to God’s name by sanctifying it and praising it.

What exactly are examples of taking His name in vain? The most obvious is when people say, “Oh my God!” This lowers God’s name to a swear word and is extremely inappropriate. God’s name is not to be thrown about to get a rise out of others or to express anger, contempt, or even surprise. This is Satan’s attack on God’s name. Other swear words have extremely bad connotations. If God’s name is used in this way bad connotations also come with it. My students often used God’s name in vain. They thought it was funny, some kind of joke. They didn’t understand God at all. His name is not to be used lightly. The Jews went to extremes by replacing God’s name with another name so that they would never use it and therefore never use it in vain. Although their method was wrong, their motivation was right. God’s name is to be honored. Other phrases used to describe God like “the man upstairs” and “some force out there” also bring disrespect to His name. Swearing by God’s name was also forbidden. Making jokes with God’s name such as “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it?” may also fall into this category. If we ascribe words or things to God’s name that are not from Him, it also is taking His name in vain. For example, the “church” at one time went to war fighting and killing thousands for the “name of God”. This was taking His name in vain.

Command 4: (negative example: guy who was executed for gathering wood on the Sabbath, Numbers 15:32-36)

This is the last command about people’s relationship to God and it covers the time they were to set aside and worship God. Six days they were to work and the servant was to be a Sabbath set aside to God. They and their slaves were not to work. The precedent for this was God Himself, who created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, as an example to us. The seventh day was to be a holy time when the people of Israel devoted themselves to worshipping God. It began at sunset on Friday and ended at sunset on Saturday.

This command was the only one not repeated in the NT. In fact, it was nullified. Jesus showed that the people’s understanding of the Sabbath was flawed. They also turned this into a ritualistic, outward, practice in which they could take great pride in their spirituality. Jesus condemned this attitude. He showed them that the Sabbath was never meant to be taken like this. It was a day to do good to serve and worship the Lord. It was a holy day to God, not a self-exaltation day to praise one’s own spiritual greatness.

Although this command is not applicable today we can still derive some principles from it. Firstly, we see a work-rest division. It is not good to work all the time. We need rest and a time to reenergize. And neither is it good to rest too much. We shouldn’t be ritualistic like the Pharisees and say we must work exactly six days and rest exactly one day, but we should see that most of our time should be spent working and only a small part should be spent resting. But that small part is still important. Secondly, we see that it is very important to set aside a specific time to worship. God knows us and our weaknesses. He knows that if we don’t set aside a time to worship it may get pushed away. Therefore He made a law to force the people to set aside this time to worship. Now we are under grace and not the law. However, it is still a good idea to set aside a time to worship although the exact time is not as important.

Command 5: (Positive example: Joseph. Negative example: Eli’s sons)

This command is the first one listed in humans’ societal relationships. It is significant because this command forms the basis of societal stability. If children do not honor their own parents, society will break down and quickly become out of control. The family unit should form the core of a healthy society and the children’s respect and obedience for their parents is a core of this. The New Testament talks about the last days, a mark of which is children will be disobedient and disrespectful to parents. God considered this such an important command that in Deuteronomy He imposed capital punishment for rebellious children. There is a consequence for disobedience, but there is also a reward for obedience. Those who honor their parents will generally live longer and happier lives on the earth. It does not promise it to every person in every situation, but is a general rule. Children who disobey their parents will be more likely to get into drugs, get in with bad crowds, live reckless lifestyles, and be judged by God.

Rebellious kids is one of the first marks (it seems to me) of a degenerating society. We can see it everywhere around us. The application is obvious: let’s honor our parents! Notice also that it doesn’t say “honor good parents”.

Command 6: (Positive example: David. Negative examples: Cain, Joab)

Murdering is irreversible and is an act against people made in the image of God. God Himself established capital punishment in the time of Noah to show humans how valuable human life is and we can not take that lightly. Even an unintentional killing would banish the one who did it to the city of refuge until the high priest of that city died.

This command is simple, right? Do not murder. We’re not murderers, right? The Pharisees took great pride in this and the other commands since they didn’t consider themselves to be murderers. I have also heard people say stuff like, “I am a good person and should get to heaven. After all, I’ve never murdered anybody.” Jesus further expounded this command to show that it is not merely external, but also internal. If we have hatred in our heart for others or curse them it is the same in God’s sight as if we actually killed them. The New Testament raises the bar. We are called to higher standards than those in the Old Testament, not lower. There is truly none good, no not one.

Command 7: (Positive example: Joseph. Negative example: David.)

Sexual purity is a topic that is repeated again and again in the Bible. Impurity is one of the most tempting for people and it is one of the most common ways believers fall into destruction. It is repeated again and again because it is so important. Many people in the Bible fell into this sin and many fall into it today.

Adultery is having sex with somebody who is married or having it with somebody other than our spouse. Other places also forbid fornication, having sex with anybody outside of marriage. It is not only a sin against the husband/wife or future husband/wife of both parties, but it is also a sin against both parties, and most importantly it is a sin against God. God’s design has always been one man and one woman in marriage. Any sexual activity outside of that sanctified union is sin. The penalty for this sin was also death.

So we may think we have not committed adultery, we pass the test! Jesus also expounded on this command in the NT and showed that it is also internal. If a guy looks at a girl and has lust even in his heart it is sin. God’s standard is very high and without His strength and power there is not a person on earth who can keep it. Even a blind person can sin in this area by thinking sinful thoughts!

So how can we apply this command? Don’t commit adultery? That’s good. Don’t commit fornication? That’s good too. But God’s standard is much higher and we must make our standard higher too! We must protect ourselves on the front side so that we never put ourselves in tempting situations. We must be pro-active by filling our minds with God’s Word. We must develop strong relationships with brothers who can keep us accountable. Any relationship we pursue should be visible to the body of Christ so that they can keep us accountable. We need to set our standards ahead of time and then maintain them without compromise. What are some specific steps you can take to protect yourselves in this area? Give examples.

Command 8: (Negative example: Achan.)

This command is pretty straightforward. Don’t steal from others. However, it does go further than most would think. It doesn’t include only pickpockets or this kind of stealing. What are some kinds of stealing that are regularly accepted in society?

Almost everyone in China is a thief and doesn’t even consider themselves to be so (not only China). Buying or using pirated software or videos is stealing. It takes something that is not rightfully ours. It takes ownership of something that was not purposed to be sold. It robs the original company of what is rightfully their’s. Does it put us at a disadvantage to others if we don’t steal in this way? Absolutely! But it is still right. Another example is excessively using MSN or surfing the internet during what is supposed to be our work time. This is like stealing salary because we are getting paid for things we are not doing. Reporting more hours worked than we did, overcharging a customer, and not reporting it if we are undercharged are all examples of stealing.

We should not only not steal. That is doing the bare minimum! God calls us to a higher standard. We are to be generous and hospitable with the things He has given us.

Command 9: (Negative example: Ananias and Saphira. Positive example: Jesus, Peter, John)

Another clear command, but one that is broken constantly! Jesus clearly showed that a neighbor includes everybody so we are commanded not to lie to anybody. This includes our enemies. There is never an acceptable situation to lie. Society defends white lies, but our standard is not society. It is the Bible. It is commonly accepted in society to lie anytime someone can get away with it if it benefits that person. We are called to be the light of the world! We must not let society define our values. Integrity is one of the most valuable things we can possess. It lets others know they can trust us. Proverbs says it is more valuable than gold. One lie can ruin a person’s integrity because if they can lie once they can lie again. A lie in a small thing will often lead to more lies to cover it up. Don’t say you will do something if you are not sure you will be able to. If you promise to do something do it even if it costs you and ends up to your disadvantage.

I remember my dad did some work building a fence for somebody one time. He quoted them a price. It ended up to be a MUCH more difficult job than he thought it would be. He worked and worked on it and never raised the price. It ended up being a terrible job for him since it took so much time and he got so little money, but he had given his word so he did it.

Also, notice this command does not tell us we always have to answer every question or disclose everything we do. If somebody asks us, “Where is your mother? I want to kill her” we don’t have to answer this question.

Lying also includes anything we do to intentionally mislead someone into believing something that is not true.

Command 10: (Negative example: Achan, Ahab)

Coveting is common. People think as long as they don’t steal something it is OK to “wish” they had it. Why is this wrong? It is wrong because it conveys a basic malcontent. We are not content with what God has given us, but desire something not in His will for us at this time. It also displays a basic lack of faith in God to provide for us. People may think it doesn’t hurt anybody, but it is a sin against God. What is more, people think they can “keep it in their mind”. But if we have a sin like coveting in our mind it is very easy for this sin to spread to a more visible sin like complaining, arguing, setting up a false god (like work to attain what we want), or stealing.

If you look at the Ten Commandments as we have studied them today as a test, how would you do? Have you always put God first? Have you ever put an object first instead? Have you ever dishonored God’s name? Have you always set aside proper time to worship God? Have you always honored your parents? Have you ever hated anybody? Ever lusted? Ever stolen? Ever lied? Ever coveted? Have you kept ANY of these commands all the time???

Let’s go to God in forgiveness and resolve to live for Him and keep these commandments by His power. Choose out a couple that you struggle with and make some specific goals to help you attain victory.

Old Testament Survey #10 – Promised Land
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