The Foundation for a Godly Society

Moses and the Ten CommandmentsThe Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) – the laws engraved onto stone which God delivered to Moses for the children of Israel – give us the blueprint for the foundation of any godly or righteous society. These Ten Commandments are regularly assaulted by those on the “left” as having no place in our government or our schools. The stated reason for their opposition is that the Ten Commandments represent a religious element that has no place in anything related to government. Yet the Ten Commandments represent more than just religion. The reason there is such strong opposition to the display of the Ten Commandments by the “left” is because the Ten Commandments stand in direct opposition to the Liberal’s ideal for society.

Many today view the Ten Commandments as part of the foundation of our religion. Yet they are part of the Old Law which was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). Does this mean they are of no value for us today? Certainly not! But we must use them properly. The Old Testament was written and is preserved “for our instruction” (Romans 15:4). When we study the Ten Commandments, we find the foundations of a godly society.

The giving of the Ten Commandments marked the first time when God’s people were joined together as a nation. This is significant. Nations (kingdoms) did not have a favorable beginning with the Lord. God’s people had lived among the nations but did not form together as their own. This was the time of the patriarchs.

But here, as the children of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai, God’s people would be assembled as a nation. This was part of God’s plan. He told the patriarch Abram, “I will make you a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). God did this on His terms.

The wise man wrote, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). God shows the framework for a righteous nation here in the Ten Commandments.

Why Should We Study This Today?

Why is it important to study how the Ten Commandments provide the basis for a godly society? We are not under this law today (Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 8:8-9). Furthermore, there is not one nation that has been designated as God’s chosen people today. His people make up a spiritual kingdom (John 18:36).

Yet these commandments are inspired and are profitable to us (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4) even if the law has changed. Many of the Ten Commandments are also repeated in the New Testament, so it reinforces our current law. But there is also a very clear and diligent effort underway to fix our country. If we want to take advantage of opportunities to show people the wisdom of God in order to hopefully lead them to a greater interest in the truth, this is an excellent place to start.

It is important to note that the Ten Commandments are not directed to or about the government – they are to the individual. That means that each one of us and all those we may teach can make personal application from these truths.

How do we fix a broken society? It will not come through government policy but with the people’s change of heart. In the Ten Commandments, we are taught about one’s relationship with God and with others and also the type of character which one ought to have. The framework for a godly and righteous society does not start with government. In fact, if all people would follow these commands, government would be unnecessary. Notice what Paul wrote:

For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:9-10).

This comes immediately after what Paul revealed about the divinely ordained role of civil government. He mentioned a few of the Ten Commandments and said they all have one thing in common – love. Love is the fulfillment of the Law. This means that if everyone exercised love properly toward one another, there would be no God-given purpose for civil government, thus making it irrelevant and unnecessary.

When the Ten Commandments were given, God spoke directly to the people (Exodus 20:1). Before this, Moses was used as God’s spokesman. Afterward, Moses again spoke to the people for God (Exodus 20:19). But in giving the Ten Commandments, God addressed the people directly. All of the laws that would later be given were based upon this framework. It was important for the people to understand that God was the Lawgiver. It is important for us as well to understand that these commands came from God.

Preface to the Ten Commandments

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2).

God began the revelation of His law by telling the people, “I am the Lord your God.” He was the ultimate authority. Though He was not discussing civil government in this context, Paul would later remind his audience of an important truth for understanding our place before civil authority. The apostle told the saints in Rome, “For there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1). Government or no government, we are accountable to the Lord.

The Israelites lived under a theocracy. God was their King and His commandments to them not only included spiritual law but also civil law. We do not live under a government today which has God as its head. But He is still the primary authority over us. Peter showed us this in his answer to the Council that threatened him for preaching Christ against their orders. When divine law conflicts with human law, we must answer as Peter did: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

It is important to note that the Ten Commandments – the foundation for a godly society – though they were given to the nation as a whole, were directed toward the individual. God said, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” For a society to function as God intends for it to, it requires individuals recognizing their accountability before God and exercising personal responsibility. Without this, any effort to fix the problems in our country will ultimately be in vain.

At the beginning, God also reminded the Israelites of the fact that He brought them out of the house of slavery in Egypt. God wants people to be free. But this freedom must be used in His service. After discussing civil authorities, Peter wrote, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (1 Peter 2:16). This need for obedience is evident in the fact that God cited their deliverance from bondage and then immediately proceeded to give them these commandments.

I: No Other Gods

You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).

Remember the preface to these commandments. The Ten Commandments were given after the Israelites were delivered from bondage in Egypt. The Egyptians believed in many gods. Pharaoh was seen by the Egyptians as a god. He was the one who stood between the gods and the people.

For a society to function as it ought, the people must serve the one, true God exclusively. This point was made in the command about idols: “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). This does not mean that a godly society today should attempt to establish a theocracy as existed at the birth of the nation of Israel. Again, these commandments were directed toward individuals, not a governing body. A society functions at its best when people have made the choice to worship and serve the Lord.

With Egypt, there was also a connection between false gods and civil government. Pharaoh, the head of the government, was a god or represented the gods. The Bible also speaks of other heads of government who were elevated in the eyes of the people to the status of a god. One in particular was Herod. When he spoke, the people would cry out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” (Acts 12:22). Government has a divine purpose (Romans 13:3-4). But when civil government – either the institution as a whole or an individual (such as a king) – steps between man and God, there will be problems.

God’s ideal for society is one in which the people have the freedom to choose to serve Him and make the choice to do so. If civil authorities exist in an ideal society, they will allow the people the freedom to worship. Individuals would then worship the one, true God. Governments might restrict the God-given freedom to worship, and individuals may worship God anyway (and are expected to do so – Acts 5:29). Governments might also allow the freedom to worship and individuals choose to not worship or choose to worship a false God. But societies function best when you have both elements: men worshiping and serving God without government interference.

Furthermore, it is significant that this commandment is first among those that were given. This means that as we serve God, He must take precedence over everything. Pleasing Him is more important than pleasing the civil authorities, our friends and family, and even ourselves. None of the other commandments matter if we do not put the Lord first in all things.

II: No Idols

You shall not make for yourselves an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6).

When we think of idols (graven images), we tend to think of the false gods of the nations around the children of Israel. The Israelites were certainly prohibited from worshiping these “gods,” but this prohibition is addressed in the first commandment. The prohibition against idols is something different. It is not limited to false gods but would also prohibit making an idol of the one, true God. When you read the instructions regarding the tabernacle and the furniture that was to go with it, there is no mention of any physical representation of God. All graven images, whether meant to depict a false god or the true God, were prohibited.

What is an idol or a graven image? It is a creation of man, crafted by him and comprised of things which God has created. God mocked this practice of idolatry.

Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, ‘Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.’ But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god’” (Isaiah 44:14-17).

Why was idolatry condemned? And why is it relevant to our study here? One of the lessons from this commandment is that we need to believe in something that is unseen. This is what the Bible describes as faith.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

The Israelites, without Moses, thought they needed something tangible to make God seem real to them. So in his absence, they made a golden calf (Exodus 32:1). While this was an idol, it was not a false god. It was meant to represent the one, true God. When the calf was made, Aaron said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:8). Even though this was meant to represent the God who “brought [them] out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:1), it made God want to destroy them (Exodus 32:9-10).

Jesus told us, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). The greatest blessings He bestows upon us are spiritual (Ephesians 1:3-14). His reward for us is eternal (Romans 6:23). If we focus on the lesser things, we will be doomed to fail. Paul wrote, “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). We certainly have responsibilities in this life, but we must remember that there is more to our existence than the things of this life.

If the people of a nation do not have faith in something unseen but only believe in what they can see, hear, and touch for themselves, there is no motivation to be good and treat others as they ought to treat them.

III: Do Not Take God’s Name in Vain

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

This refers to one invoking God’s name carelessly or irreverently. The underlying principle behind this commandment is that man must have a respect and reverence for God. The first two commandments show us that the Israelites were to have no other gods and have faith in the unseen. This commandment builds upon the first two: the one, true God whom we acknowledge in faith must be respected by man.

Respecting God is important, particularly when it comes to how the people of a society function with one another. If we respect God, we will do certain things:

  1. We will listen to Him.
  2. We will obey Him.
  3. We will make decisions according to His revealed principles.

If people have enough respect for God that they listen to Him, obey Him, and consult His word whenever a question arises about a proper course of action, society will function better. When people do not respect God and, therefore do not obey God, society falls apart. This should become clear to us as we look at the remaining commandments.

IV: Remember the Sabbath

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).

The Sabbath law was not carried over into the New Testament. Therefore, it is not a religious requirement for Christians today. It was given specifically to the Jewish people (Exodus 31:13-17). Yet the commandment to remember the Sabbath day contains some principles that are important for us to remember. These principles, when accepted by the people of a society, will be a great source of strength to the society.

The first principle we will consider has to do with the reason for the commandment. Why were the Israelites to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy? Remember that this day was meant to correspond to a significant event – the Creation.

For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11).

The Sabbath was not just for giving the people a break from their work. It was meant to remind people of God’s work in Creation, followed by His rest on the seventh day. There are several important reminders from the Creation about God and ourselves.

  • In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). This reminds us that He exists since a design demands a designer (cf. Hebrews 3:4). The fact that He was able to create something from nothing also shows us “His eternal power” (Romans 1:20).
  • The creation also shows that He cares for us. “Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food’; and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:29-31). God has provided everything we need to survive and prosper through the things which He has created.
  • Knowing that God is our Creator reminds us that we are not the product of some great cosmic accident. We are here because it was God’s will for us to be here (Revelation 4:11).
  • The understanding that God deliberately placed man on the earth and that we are not the product of random chance tells us that we have a purpose in this life. The wise man succinctly explained this purpose: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Understanding that God is our Creator ought to lead us to obey Him as the wise man pointed out in the verse above. When a society is made up of people who remember that God is their Creator and that everything they enjoy in this life is here by His providence, that society will function as God intends for it to function.

The second principle derived from the Sabbath law that is needed for a godly society is that men must be hardworking. The Sabbath law mandated rest on the seventh day following six days of labor. It is interesting that in our current culture, the norm is for people to work not six but five days a week. This seems like such a burden to many that they cannot bear the thought of giving up their “weekend” for work. Sadly, many others do not want to work at all and take advantage of friends, family, or government programs to keep from working. Yet under this law, the Israelites had to be told, under penalty of death (Exodus 31:14-15), not to work on the seventh day of the week. How many people today complain about working just five days a week (not counting holidays, vacations, sick time, etc.)?

This is not to say that it is wrong for someone to work only five days a week. Our economy is different. Technology is more advanced. Many people are able to live comfortably with a forty hour work week. But the point is that God intends for society to be made up of hardworking people. This characteristic is commended, not only here but throughout the Bible:

Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8).

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).

Lately our society has been infected with a slothful mentality that causes one to believe he is entitled to the fruits of labor without actually laboring for himself. Having people who are willing to work hard to provide for themselves will have a great, positive impact on society as a whole.

V: Honor Your Father and Mother

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12).

This commandment is repeated in the New Testament, and Paul said it was “the first commandment with a promise” (Ephesians 6:2). This promise – that their days would be prolonged in the land – was about life, prosperity, and security. Generally, one who honors his father and mother will receive such a benefit. Why? Parents want what is best for their children and they have wisdom (both in the form of instruction and personal experience) to pass on to their children. Therefore, it is good for children to honor their parents.

This commandment specifically mentions the responsibility of the younger generation to obey their parents. But there is a broader principle here as well that the younger generation must respect the older generation. This means that this commandment carries responsibilities past childhood and into one’s adult life. Jesus explained this during one of His confrontations with the Pharisees and scribes.

And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, “Honor your father and mother,” and, “He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.” But you say, “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,’ he is not to honor his father or his mother,” And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition’” (Matthew 15:3-6).

This command clearly applied to adults as well since Jesus indicted these grown men of transgressing it. The Pharisees and scribes were condemned because they refused to care for their parents’ needs in their old age. The Scriptures are clear that children have the primary responsibility of caring for their parents later in life.

Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God” (1 Timothy 5:3-4).

Paul said that widows who met certain qualifications and had no one to care for them could be helped by the church (1 Timothy 5:5-16). But if there was family who could care for a certain widow, the family was to do it; and “the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed” (1 Timothy 5:16).

In our society, it has become expected that the government ought to take care of needy parents rather than their children. Costs for programs that provide aid for seniors continue to rise and, if not corrected, will bankrupt the country. Older citizens surely need to be cared for. How is this to be done? First of all, the Scriptures show us the responsibility for each of us to provide for ourselves, not just so we will not be in need, but so that we will have something to pass down to our children and grandchildren.

Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children” (2 Corinthians 12:14).

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, and the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22).

Though this may be a worthy goal, we all understand that life does not always turn out the way we plan. As a result, even godly people who do their best may find themselves needing help in their older years. The responsibility to care for these individuals falls to their families. A lot of problems in our society would be solved if parents worked diligently to make provisions for themselves and children stepped up to fill in anything that lacked. Jesus taught that this was how one honors his parents.

There is another lesson that is implied in this command about the responsibility of the older generation. They are to cause their children to honor them – not by force, but by discipline and teaching.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:9).

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Parents must teach their children so they learn the truth, discipline their children so they learn respect, and show themselves to be examples lest their hypocrisy tells the children that following God’s will is unimportant. Failure to do these things will result in a generation like the one that followed Joshua’s generation.

All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals, and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were among them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger” (Judges 2:10-12).

The commandment to honor one’s parents has a greater impact than just over one family. It will affect how each generation respects and serves God.

VI: Do Not Murder

You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

There is a little bit of confusion over the translation in the King James Version of this verse: “Thou shalt not kill.” This has led some to conclude that all instances of one man taking another man’s life is condemned (including capital punishment). Yet this verse does not prohibit all killing.

  • Capital punishment was permitted under the Law (Exodus 21:12; Leviticus 24:17; Numbers 15:35).
  • Accidentally taking someone’s life was not a capital crime (Numbers 35:10-12, 22-25).
  • Self-defense was allowed under the Law (Exodus 22:2).

From the above examples, we can see that this commandment is specifically about murder. The command against murder was carried over into the New Testament as well (Romans 1:29; 13:9; 1 Timothy 1:9), and no precept was handed down from above that would broaden the definition of killing beyond murder.

This commandment is important for any society to function as God intends for it to function, not just to keep citizens from murdering their fellowman, but for the broader principle upon which this command is based. The prohibition of murder is grounded in a necessary respect for the sanctity of human life.

All men have been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). For this reason, murder was condemned; and capital punishment was to be used against those who commit such a crime. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). Because all men are made in the image of God, we must love one another.

For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous” (1 John 3:11-12).

As we have already seen, love is the basis for all of these commandments. Paul wrote, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10). Because of our love for our others, we are not to bring about harm to them.

When discussing this, especially as it pertains to the foundation of society, a question will arise about abortion. Most understand that murder is wrong. But does abortion count? The Scriptures teach that abortion most certainly does count as murder. Notice the following passages:

If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:22-25).

The same Law that condemned murder imposed the same penalty on harming an unborn child as one who was already born. Furthermore, the Bible shows us that God sees an unborn child as a unique individual, rather than just a mass of tissue.

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:13-16).

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).

The Scriptures show us that there is no difference between a born child and an unborn child. Notice two verses:

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41).

This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).

The first verse describes John in the womb. The second verse speaks of Jesus after He was born. Both the unborn John and the newly born Jesus were called by the same term – baby (Greek: brephos). Those who argue for abortion are calling for the killing of a life that the Holy Spirit calls the same as the life of one who has already been born. The issue of abortion is not a matter of liberty and a woman having the right over her own body. It is about protecting the life of an unborn child who has been made in the image of God. A society that is founded on godly principles will protect this life, not condone or fund the extermination of those who have been deemed to be too inconvenient.

Euthanasia is another question that has arisen in our society. It is sometimes called “mercy killing” and is usually advocated in order to end the life of one who is in chronic ill health. Is such a practice good and acceptable for a society that is founded upon godly principles? The Scriptures give us the answer: no, it is not.

When Saul was badly wounded in battle, he took his own life to prevent the Philistines from capturing him alive (1 Samuel 31:3-4). After this, a young man came to David to inform him of Saul’s death and to bring him the king’s crown and bracelet (2 Samuel 1:2-4, 10). When David questioned him, this young man lied about what had happened.

The young man who told him said, ‘By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and behold, Saul was leaning on his spear. And behold, the chariots and the horsemen pursued him closely. When he looked behind him, he saw me and called to me. And I said, “Here I am,” He said to me, “Who are you?” And I answered him, “I am an Amalekite.” Then he said to me, “Please stand beside me and kill me, for agony has seized me because my life still lingers in me.” So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown which was on his head and the bracelet which was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord’” (2 Samuel 1:6-10).

The Scriptures reveal to us that Saul fell on his own sword. This man lied and said that he killed Saul at his request. David was forced to make a judgment based upon this man’s word. What the young man described was a “mercy killing.” How did David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), react?

Then David said to him, ‘How is it you were not afraid to stretch out your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?’ And David called one of the young men and said, ‘Go, cut him down.’ So he struck him and he died. David said to him, ‘Your blood is on your head, for your mouth has testified against you, saying, “I have killed the Lord’s anointed”’” (2 Samuel 1:14-16).

By testifying (falsely) that he killed a mortally wounded Saul, this man admitted to murdering the king and was worthy of capital punishment.

The Scriptures teach that those who are older are to be respected. As we have already noticed, the command to honor one’s father and mother applied even after the children were grown.

You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32).

Respect for one’s elders is tied to respect for God. Those who are of the older generation are to be honored, not have their lives ended when it becomes more convenient for the younger generation to do so.

VII: Do Not Commit Adultery

You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).

The prohibition of adultery shows the obvious need for personal morality and purity in the realm of sexual activity. The law of Moses condemned various forms of fornication, including incest (Leviticus 18:6-17), adultery (Leviticus 18:20), homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22), and bestiality (Leviticus 18:23). The New Testament law also condemns fornication generally (1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:3), as well as adultery and homosexuality specifically (1 Corinthians 6:9).

Yet when we consider this from the standpoint of our study about how the Ten Commandments provide the foundation for a godly society, it is significant that the seventh commandment condemns adultery specifically, not the general category of fornication (which would be dealt with at various times in the giving of the Law).

The fact that God’s foundation of society condemns adultery shows the importance of honoring the institution of marriage.

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).

It is important to note that God intends for marriage to be honored “among all.” He created the institution of marriage in the beginning with Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:24). Jesus appealed to this establishment of marriage when He explained the truth about divorce (Matthew 19:4-6). Marriage is not merely a cultural matter, but is an institution that was given to man, having its origins in the mind of God.

Marriage is important because it gives one a companion and partner in a stable relationship. God saw the loneliness of Adam and gave him the perfect gift to address it – Eve.

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him’” (Genesis 2:18).

God, the great power behind Creation, was able to give Adam whatever it was he needed to fill the void in his life on the earth. None of the animals would provide sufficient companionship and help to Adam (Genesis 2:19-20). So God had to create a companion and help meet. He made “a woman” (Genesis 2:22), not another man. In God’s institution of marriage, the man and woman have different, complementary roles to play (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Knowing that the man and woman have different roles in marriage that perfectly complement one another and that all of this is by God’s design, it is no wonder that the Hebrew writer said, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all” (Hebrews 13:4).

But the Hebrew writer made an additional point. Not only is marriage to be honored, but “the marriage bed is to be undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). It surprises no one when defiling the marriage bed (adultery) leads to divorce. Jesus even gave this as the sole cause that would give one divine permission to put away his spouse (Matthew 19:9). Obviously, divorces happen for other reasons as well; but Jesus said, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (Matthew 19:8). From the beginning, God intended marriage to be a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman.

Divorce is a huge problem in our society. Besides this, there are many who do not understand or respect the fact that God designed marriage to be the relationship in which one can lawfully fulfill sexual desires (Matthew 19:6; Hebrews 13:4). Because of this, they engage in sexual activity before and without marriage which results in homes with single mothers where the father is nowhere to be found.

It is easy to see, both through statistics and by our own observation, that those in broken homes are at a disadvantage compared to those in stable, two-parent households. Many unsustainable, failing government programs have been introduced in order to try to help those in these unfortunate circumstances. While we understand that there will always be some single-parent households (if for no other reason than for the death of one of the parents), many problems in society (poverty, crime, drug abuse, etc.) would be significantly reduced if people would develop a proper respect for the institution of marriage and hold it “in honor” as God expects.

VIII: Do Not Steal

You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).

There are some principles contained in this command that, if followed, will make for a better society.

The reason why stealing was prohibited was because man had a right to his own property. This principle has been expressed several times in Scripture.

Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19).

But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20:13-15).

While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).

These verses show us that each one has the divine right to use his own possessions as he sees fit. The blessings that we have come from God (Ecclesiastes 5:18; James 1:17). Therefore, the blessings that others receive come from God as well. We have no right to take from others by force. To do this demonstrates a lack of love for our fellow man (cf. Romans 13:9-10).

We need to remember to look for our blessings that come from God, not the blessings He has give to others (cf. Exodus 20:17). Stealing not only shows a lack of respect for others but a lack of respect for God who blessed us in the way that He has. Paul teaches us that we must learn “to be content in whatever circumstances” we find ourselves, whether our circumstances are humble or prosperous (Philippians 4:11-12).

The punishments listed for stealing reinforce the point that personal property rights were to be respected, for punishment focused on restitution.

If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If what he stole is actually found alive in his possession, whether an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double” (Exodus 22:1-4).

If one was caught stealing, he did not go to jail where he would be housed, clothed, fed, given time to exercise, etc. Interestingly, there was no jail time given as punishment under the Law of Moses. Instead, the thief would make restitution. The punishment was to be more than just a deterrent, it was meant to make things right with the victim of the crime. This would deter those who would steal simply to avoid working for themselves because when they were caught, they would have to work even harder for someone else.

This commandment also emphasizes personal responsibility. A man is to work to provide for himself rather than take the fruits of another man’s labor. God’s plan is for the one who is blessed to enjoy his blessings.

Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19).

Rather than looking at what others possess, one who is able-bodied must work to provide for himself and his family and to be able to help those who are in need.

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).

He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Ephesians 4:28).

Our society is facing certain difficulties because a substantial number of people believe they are somehow entitled to the fruits of another man’s labor. Not all of those who believe this will steal from others (though some certainly will); but they are perfectly content to call for the use of government force to confiscate and redistribute the wealth of others. When the able-bodied refuse to work for themselves and want to live off of the labors of others, society is in trouble. We must exercise personal responsibility in providing for ourselves.

IX: Do Not Bear False Witness

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).

Two points are emphasized in this commandment that are essential to society: truth and justice. Regarding the first of these, truth, Paul told the brethren in Thessalonica that we must love the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10). The wise man spoke of the value of truth when he said, “Buy truth, and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding” (Proverbs 23:23). Loving and valuing the truth is a necessary component for a society to function as God designed.

These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates” (Zechariah 8:16).

The commandment against bearing false witness is more than just a prohibition of lying. It is about justice. People today sometimes talk about “social justice.” This type of justice is not based upon truth but upon man’s subjective and misguided concept of fairness. But the prophet said that judgments must be made based upon truth. The poor were not to be oppressed (Zechariah 7:9-10) nor were they to be shown partiality over others when judgments were being made (Exodus 23:3). An objective standard of truth is the only fair and right basis for justice.

A king who sits on the throne of justice disperses all evil with his eyes” (Proverbs 20:8).

Justice must exist for a society to function properly. But in order for justice to be done, as important as it is for authorities to work for it, each citizen has a responsibility to carry out as well.

You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute” (Exodus 23:1-3).

Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:20).

Justice must be based on what is true, not what is false. What is just is not determined by the wicked majority nor is it determined by our sympathies for the poor. Justice, determined by an objective standard of truth, must prevail. This is the only way for one’s God-given rights to not be infringed upon.

X: Do Not Covet

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).

The first four commandments address our relationship with God. The next five deal with our actions as they relate to our fellow man. The last commandment is a little different. It is solely about what we think.

This shows us that God expects more from us than just outward service. He knows our thoughts (Hebrews 4:12) and expects us to think a certain way. The proverb writer noted, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7), and, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Our virtue and morality must not be superficial; otherwise, they can be cast aside whenever it becomes convenient or somehow advantageous to us to act wickedly and immorally. For a society to work properly, people must be truly be good people and not just act like it when it is easy to do so.

But there are other relevant principles to be found in the prohibition against covetousness. One is that we must desire good for our neighbor. Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). If our neighbor is prosperous, we should not begrudge him or be jealous of him; we ought to rejoice with him for the blessings he has received. The ungodly spirit of covetousness is seen when a man wishes for the prosperous to be torn down in some hope that his own situation will improve. We have already discussed the importance of working hard to provide for oneself instead of desiring the blessings of others. Covetousness desires that one be denied the fruits of his labor for someone else’s selfish benefit. A society cannot function well for long if the prosperous and successful are constantly being torn down in order to help those who have not been prosperous or successful.

There is also the principle of contentment that is found in the command against covetousness. We have already seen that stealing from others demonstrates a lack of contentment for the blessings which one has received from God. Covetousness, though it is merely a thought process and not an action, is an indicator of the same lack of contentment. Paul wrote, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). If people are content with even the most basic necessities, instead of wishing for hardship and loss to befall others who have been more successful, society as a whole will be much better off.


The foundation of a godly society does not begin with government but with individuals. That is why these Ten Commandments are directed toward individuals. If we hope to have any chance of fixing our broken society, it must be done by changing the hearts and minds of the people.

If people would learn the principles and precepts contained in the Ten Commandments and put them into practice, our society will immediately and dramatically improve.

  1. If we have no other gods, we will not place anything – even those in positions of civil authority – between us and the Lord.
  2. If we refuse to worship idols, it will be due to the fact that we have faith in something unseen (God).
  3. If we refrain from taking God’s name in vain, it is because we have learned to respect and reverence the Lord.
  4. If we remember the principles of the Sabbath day, we will be hardworking and remember the fact that God is our Creator.
  5. If we honor our father and mother, we will take seriously our responsibility to care for them rather than leaving that responsibility to others (such as the government).
  6. If we understand the commandment against murder, we will respect the sanctity of human life, which would necessarily include opposition to abortion and euthanasia.
  7. If we understand the commandment against adultery, we will value both sexual purity and the institution of marriage.
  8. If we understand the commandment against stealing, we will respect personal property rights, learn contentment, and work hard to provide for ourselves.
  9. If we understand the commandment against bearing false witness, we will value honesty, truth, and justice.
  10. If we understand the commandment against covetousness, we will realize that our thoughts, as well as our actions, must be righteous and that we should desire good for others and not hardship or loss.

Just imagine how much better our society would be if people simply lived according to these principles. Many, though – both on the “left” and the “right” – see the problems that exist in society and believe that there must be some government action, program, or law that could correct them. But this is a poor substitute for a free people acting according to Biblical principles.

There is a role which God has ordained for civil government. But there is also a danger in expanding the power and responsibility of government beyond the divinely-ordained role.

This article is an excerpt from the book, Civil Government: What the Bible Says About Its Origin, History, Nature, and Role.

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  1. Larry DeVore says

    Excellent article, Andy.

  2. Wayne D. Teel says

    I have not read your book but I can tell from what you have inserted here that it must be very good. Thank you, Andy, for this fine article. How badly our society needs to read this carefully! I do appreciate your hard work and want to encourage you to continue. God bless your efforts for good.

  3. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate your encouragement.