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