“‘If you love me, keep my commands’” (John 14:15).

Most Christians are familiar with the Old Testament account of Moses coming down Mount Sinai carrying two stone tablets. On them were 10 rules for the young nation of Israel. God Himself engraved this covenant between Him and his people.

But the Lord did far more than just issue a set of rules. Through them, He was showing what a life of faith should look like. It presented a very high standard. But, it also offered the way to a more peaceful, joyful and worshipful life.

Where Do We Find the Story of the 10 Commandments?

The account of Moses receiving the commandments can be found in Exodus 19. Three months after leaving Egypt, the Israelites were camped in the Sinai desert. God spoke to Moses from the mountain, giving him a message for the people:

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.’”

The Lord then instructed Moses to meet Him on the mountain, but to make sure none of the people or animals came near the foot of the mount. When Moses arrived, God dictated these commandments to be delivered to the nation. Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-22 contain the full list of Laws.

What Are Each of the 10 Commandments?

Simple and direct, this list from God has had the power to equip believers throughout the ages to live well. The Laws are echoed throughout Scripture, and woven into the truths of the Old Testament, and the teachings of the New Testament.

1. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (v. 3)

“...yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6).

2. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” (v. 4-5)

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

3. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (v. 7)

“All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered” (1 Timothy 6:1).

4. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.” (v. 8-10)

“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).

5. “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (v. 12)

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ —which is the first commandment…” (Ephesians 6:1-2).

6. “You shall not murder.” (v.13)

“If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler” (1 Peter 4:15).

7. “You shall not commit adultery.” (v. 14)

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).

8. “You shall not steal.” (v. 15)

“Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28).

9. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” (v. 16)

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25).

10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (v. 17)

“...but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).

Is There Any Significance to the Order of the Commandments?

The commandments are not named in order of importance. All the commandments are God-given and vital to our spiritual health. Ideally, they should all be part of our moral code. But it’s interesting to note that the Laws seem to fall into loose categories.

Commandments 1 through 4 tell us to hold God above all others as the only One worthy of our worship and reverence. The 5th through 8th commandments address some basic personal values and behavior choices. Finally, commandments 9 and 10 deal with our treatment of neighbors and friends.

Another note about this list of commandments is that all but two are presented in the negative - “You shall not…” But Laws 4 and 5, tucked right in the middle, give us positive directions - “remember” and “honor.”

Why Are There 10 Commandments?

In Scripture, the number 10 appears several times throughout the Old Testament. It’s been said to be used in a literary way to represent completion, order and wholeness.

The number of Laws corresponds with the number of plagues in Egypt (Exodus 7-12), as well as the generations between Adam - the beginning of mankind - and Noah, who survived God’s destruction of mankind. The phrase “God said,” is also found 10 times in the Creation account of Genesis 1.

Why Did God Give the Israelites the 10 Commandments?

As the Israelites made their 40-year journey to the Promised Land, God’s plan was to train them in His Ways and to establish a deeper relationship with them. He often reminded them of how they had already seen His goodness in their lives.

“And God spoke all these words: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’” (Exodus 20:1-2).

The Lord then gave this list of rules as a basis for living righteous lives. His goal reached beyond just blind obedience, though. The commandments were meant to be a loving gift to the people He called His own by: 

- Establishing Him as their Heavenly King, who would rule justly

- Showing them their need of Him, and His faithfulness to them

- Protecting them from mistakes that would bring them harm

- Setting them apart as His, to stand out in a corrupt and sinful world

The Lord wanted to give them guidelines to follow as they entered and conquered the land. God knew how easily men’s hearts can be turned away from Him, and offered the commandments as clear boundaries for those who loved Him.

Do We Still Have to Follow These Commandments Today?

There has been debate as to whether we are still called to obey all 10 commandments in our time. Some argue that we are only obligated to follow the ones that Jesus specifically mentions in the Gospels.

But our Lord Himself said differently as He started His earthly ministry. Jesus wanted people to understand that God, and His standard for us, had not and would never change.

“‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 5:17-19).

On several occasions, Jesus used the commandments as a foundation for teaching about righteousness. In these lessons, the Lord asked His disciples to keep each law in their hearts, making them part of a life that honors God and shares His love with others.

“‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).

“‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’” (Matthew 5:27-28).

“A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good — except God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ ‘All these I have kept since I was a boy,’ he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’” (Luke 18:18-22).

The teachings of the New Testament were clearly based on the truths in the original commandments, giving practical ways to apply them. The Apostle Paul told of his own transformation when he understood the purpose of them.

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet … So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:7,12).

Since the moment God handed down the 10 Commandments, people from all eras have seen the need for, and blessings of, following them. We would be wise to join them.

“‘Keep my commands and follow them. I am the Lord’” (Leviticus 22:31).

“Exhort your household to learn [the Ten Commandments] word for word, that they should obey God…For if you teach and urge your families, things will go forward” - Martin Luther.

“We have staked the whole future of our new nation, not upon the power of government; far from it. We have staked the future of all our political constitutions upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments” - James Madison

“If God would have wanted us to live in a permissive society He would have given us Ten Suggestions and not Ten Commandments” - Zig Ziglar

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/allanswart

Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby! You can connect with her on her website: heatheradamsworshipwalk.com