Exodus 20

Exodus 20: The Ancient Stone Boundaries

“ When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of STONE  inscribed by the finger of God.” ( Exodus 31:18)

The theme of the 20th chapter of Exodus is about three things:  giving of the 10 commandments; the effect of God’s visit on the people; and instructions concerning the altar. Interesting these instructions regarding the altar are given in the same visitation by God as the giving of the 10 Commandments. Then as you think about this, you realize the law and the altar go together.

The Law serves as the mirror that reveals our sinfulness and need of a Savior. The altar with its sacrifice and shedding of blood must be there for the covering or atoning for the sins. You have a mirror in your bathroom which is a picture of the law. And sitting below that mirror is a basin for washing away the dirt the mirror reveals. You cannot wash away your filth with a mirror – neither can the Law wash away your sins, only reveal them.  There is a basin though, a fountain, filled with blood  drawn from Immanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.  What can wash away my sins?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

God never gave the law as a means of salvation. “ …For by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” ( Galatians 2:16)

So the rhetorical question Paul poses in Galatians 3 explains why the Law was given: “ What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through the angels by a hand of a mediator.” (Gal. 3:19)  Also Paul explains:  “ the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under the tutor.”

When Jesus came , He came not to do away with the law, but to fulfill it- ‘every jot and tittle.’ In this way, Jesus who was fully God and fully man was qualified to be our perfect sacrifice.  The Lamb of God must be without flaw, perfect, having never sinned in order to take away the sin of the world. “ For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goat should take way sins. Wherefore when he(Jesus) came into the world, he said:” Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body thou hast prepared for me.” ( Hebrews 10)

“ Lo I have come to do they will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.’( Hebrews 10:9)  The Lord Jesus took away the first covenant by fulfilling it, keeping the law without ever sinning. This enabled him through the atoning sacrifice of his life to establish the second convenant- the New Testament.  So we must never say the Law is not important or that we are not to keep it.

In this way a Holy God was satisfied. God did not give us His Spirit because we kept the law, for none of us could keep the law. Instead God gave us His Spirit because we trusted Christ.

Now let us listen the voice of God as He spoke these words: “ I am the Lord Your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other Gods before Me.”   God is stating the facts of their relationship: I am the Lord.  He is the one and only God, creator of the universe, maker of all things seen and not seen in the universe. In Exodus 19: 5- He reminds us- ‘ the whole earth is mine.’ His earth, His creation, His Rules. Second fact God reminds us, as believers, is He is Our God. Just as Israel entered into a covenant with God as His People, we have also as Christians entered into a new covenant through faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Third fact: God reminds the Israelites and us- it is He who has brought us out of bondage. As my Kinsman Redeemer He has purchased me and as the song says-He paid much too high a price. God therefore deserves my obedience.

We are saved by His grace through faith. But that does not mean because we are not saved by the keeping of the law, that we somehow can break the law at will without consequences and discipline. Paul when encountering this abuse of grace said: “ What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” ( Romans 6)  God wants to bring our will in union and harmony with His will. That is why when Jesus taught us to pray- He taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done.”

Let us look at the situation Moses and the people of Israel found themselves in: God had just delivered them out of bondage, out of the slavery they had found themselves in-in Egypt. The Ten Commandments were given as a plan, a strategy for staying out of slavery. That these ancient commandments were written on stone tablets was significant. For Proverbs 22: 28 says: “ Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers.”

The boundary stone was like a fence, a visual reminder of what belonged to the owner. Outside of that boundary was outside of the legal limits. God’s commandments are our ancient boundary stone and when we go outside that boundary stone, we are outside the legal limits.

So what do we do?  Remember our old nature is deceitful above all else. And what it does over the generations is to move the boundary stone. Saying it is permissible to go outside this boundary. It is acceptable. No longer is it considered a sin to practice homosexuality- it is an alternative life style. And for a man to marry a man or a woman to marry a woman is not unnatural as the Word of God says- it is a civil right.

The boundary stone is a visible reminder of the limitations set by our King. As a nation, once who proclaimed to be under God, we have moved the boundary stone, the visible reminder, because people do not want to retain God in their thoughts.

The Bible tells us when the people do not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God and His boundaries, God gives them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. And as a result of removing the boundary stone, they have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They have become enslaved.

Having removed the ancient boundaries, having removed the visible reminder of the 10 Commandments from the public school and the public arena, we have returned to bondage through our sins which enslave us as  individuals and as a nation.

Today we see the extreme of sin, Paul wrote about in Romans 1. “ Although they know God’s righteous decrees that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do those very things, but also approve of those who practice them.” The extreme of sin is applauding , rather than regretting our sins and the sins of others.

“DO NOT MOVE AN ANCIENT BOUNDARY STONE SET UP BY YOUR FOREFATHERS.”  ( Proverbs 22:28)   Let us consider these laws written on ancient tablets of stone.


  1. You shall have no other gods before me. God delivered the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt to show Himself as the one and only true God. Plague after plague, God was showing His people and the Egyptians – He was the only true God and there was no one like  Him.  He has also said- you cannot serve two masters. How does the devil tempt us? Through lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and pride of life. Pride makes a god of self. Covetousness makes a god of money- materialism the lust of the eyes. Sensuality makes a god of appetites- lust of the flesh.
  2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image-any likeness  of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, the Lord Your God , am a jealous God, visiting iniquity(NIV says punishing the children for the sins of their fathers) upon the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands who love Me and keep My commandments. The KJV says visiting inquity of the fathers upon the children for three or four generations. God does not punish children for the sins of their parents. God is telling us He sees the adverse effect the sins of the parents and grandparents has on their children. We know from experience -alcoholism shows up, as does abuse, racism, and other sinful behavior taught by actions and behavior of parents and grandparents.  Now, having declared Himself the only True God and denouncing polytheism, the worship of many Gods, God now deals with ordinance of worship. In Colossians 3:5 we read….’ Covetousness is idolatry.’ An idol is a substitute for God. It is anything you give more of your time, loyalty, and dedication to than God. It can be money, possessions, success, knowledge or even other people. It is what you treasure. And Jesus warned against laying up your treasure here on earth, where moths corrupt and thieves steal, but lay them up in heaven, where moths do not corrupt and thieves do not break in and steal. And then the Lord Jesus tells us why this sin of idolatry is so serious: “ For where your treasure is there will be your heart also.” God in giving this commandment also gives us the reason for this commandment- He is a ‘ jealous God.’ He is jealous in a good sense, in that God always wants what is best for His own. Just as parents and grandparents do, just as spouses do for their mates. God knows no one or no possession, or any position or recognition in this world can satisfy the longing of our hearts. This world is temporary. Our main task in this world is to decide whom we will serve, and in doing so we determine where and with whom we will spend eternity. Do you know what you and I can do as Christians?  We can help to bring blessings to the succeeding generations.  For all I know, I am today a teacher of His Word because of the answered prayers of my mother, grandmother and great-greats in my genealogy. There is another reason we are not to make images. God is Spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and truth. People who do not know what they worship- want an object they can touch and see and identify. But our worship, God is telling us must be governed by the power of faith not sight. Jesus said to Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen me, and yet believed.  (John 20) Jesus also told Martha at the tomb of Lazarus: “ Did I not tell you, if you would believe you would see the glory of God.” ( John 11)  Images appeal to the power of imagination, not the power of faith.
  3. The third commandment is ‘ you shall not take the name of the Lord Your God in vain. Are you noticing how many times, the phrase, ‘the Lord Your God’ is used. If God is your God you are to have no other Gods before you; if the Lord is Your God, you are to have no idols and you are not to take His Name in vain. Using God’s name in vain is cursing- profanity, right?  Well, that is one way we use His name in vain. But we need to understand how important God’s name and titles are. There are, by some counts over 700 names or titles for God and the Lord Jesus in the Old and New Testament. Moses wanted to know God’s name at the burning bush. So Moses understood that God’s name and title played an important and unique role in the Bible and in the life of a believer. His names and titles reveal His nature, His attributes, His Person, His power and especially His Glory. Psalms 8 is all about His Name. It begins:  “ O Lord , Our Lord how excellent is Your Name in all the earth, who have set Your Glory above the heavens.” Jesus when he taught us to pray, said we are to pray this way:  “ Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be they name…” Because of the greatness of His Name and the Power of His name any use of His name that brings dishonor on Him or His character is taking His name in vain. If a person swears by God’s name to legitimize an oath and breaks that oath or lies under oath sworn to God, it is in vain and in a court of law it is perjury and punishable. And God says He will not hold anyone who uses His name in vain- guiltless. The Lord Jesus’ name has been elevated above all names and we are told that one day every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. As believers, we have taken His name- just as a bride takes the name of her husband, we have as the bride of Christ taken His name. We are called Christians. When you take His name and yet live in deliberate and continuous disobedience to His commands, you have taken His Name in vain. You have committed spiritual adultery, you have misrepresented your King. You are a disloyal ambassador. What did God say on that mountain top so many years ago?  He said ‘He would not hold them guiltless.” Listen to what are some of the saddest and most sobering verses in the Bible: “ Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of the Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “ Lord,Lord have we not prophesied in Your Name, cast out demons in Your Name, and done many wonders in Your Name? And then I will declare to them, “ I never knew you, depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7) These are those who used His Name in vain, and God is holding them guilty. The Judge has brought down His gavel, they are guilty of perjury, they have used His Name in vain for their own glory and not the Glory of God. His name is Holy as He is Holy. We are to esteem His Name, honor His Name as we revere Him and worship Him and glorify Him. For the chief end of mankind is to glorify God and to do less is to take His Name in vain. Do you remember when the president of Venezuela spoke at the UN in NYC a few years ago and called George Bush a devil?  It made Congressman Charlie Rangel so angry and he told the media why. He said George Bush is my president and it makes me angry when someone comes into my country into my city and profanes my president. You may not agree with Charlie Rangel’s politics but he got this one right. In my opinion it goes back to Charlie’s days in the military , where he was a decorated hero. He was also a soldier who when push comes to shove- will always stand for his commander-in-chief. Congressman Rangel is a devout Democrat, but above that I believe he is an American. Anyone who has been in the military understands the oath of loyalty- as Christian soldiers and ambassadors we must uphold our oath of loyalty and revere the Name of our Creator and our Savior.
  4. Now the fourth commandment which deals with the ordinance of worship is explained in Exodus 20: 8-11 and we read:  “ Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” God instructs them they are to do no work and God connects it to creation and how He created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them and rested on the seventh day. Designating the Sabbath day and hallowed it. Now this commandment is a special sign between God and Israel that is not only associated with creation but also associated with the deliverance of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Look at Exodus 31: 16 & 17 and God says: “ it is a sign between ME and Israel forever.” The Pharisees would later add man-made laws as to how one could observe and keep the Sabbath holy.  This laws of does and don’t s, the Lord Jesus did not obey because they were not God’s law and as such were false teaching which He came to set straight. For example: according to the man-made laws of the Pharisees, a man could get his ox out of a ditch on the Sabbath, but the lame man who was healed and could walk and picked up his mat had broken the law; as Jesus had broken it when he made mud to place on the blind man’s eyes to restore sight to a man born blind.

God’s Word and yes even His laws, His list of do’s and don’ts function to tell us that we were made by Him, for Him, in His image and for a personal relationship with Him. He could no more leave us ruined and helpless than a father could his child. He longs for our well being and that is why He came for us, to rescue us.  God is our Father, He wants the best for us, His children.

On those ancient stones- He gave us  instructions, boundaries to guide us to live the ‘ abundant life.’ He knows we are prone to wander, and have a tendency to be guided by short-term gains without concern for long-term effects.  We need guidance. We need boundaries. We need guardrails to keep us from going astray.

God tells us if we do what He tells us do to do- we will be uniquely happy. We will grow and thrive like a tree planted by the streams of water.

The boundaries He set for us are contained in His Word written by the One who designed us.

All bondage or enslavement begins with sin. All bondage promotes sin. God’s commands, His ancient boundary stones – were given not to enslave us but to keep us free.  It is for freedom Christ set us free.

“Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers.”