The Horizontal Words

January 7, 2015 at 10:25 am | Posted in Exodus | 9 Comments
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The first four “Words” of the Decalogue are the so-called “vertical” words or commandments. They deal with the relationship between God and man. Starting with number five, the commandments are “horizontal.” They deal with our relationships with each other. Remember the summation of the Decalogue: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength – and your neighbor as yourself.

The horizontal words begin with the relationship between children and parents.

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Exodus 20:12

The provision, “that thy days may be long upon the earth,” is not really a promise that if you obey your parents you will live longer. It’s really more of a reference to “the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee,” meaning Canaan, the promised land. It expresses the idea that, if the elderly are not honored and respected, then in three or four generations the nation will lose the blessing that God gives it. It is also a reference to caring for the elderly.

Thou shalt not kill.

Exodus 20:13

The “killing” that is prohibited in this Word is unjustified killing, so that, depending upon circumstances, war, capital punishment within government-sanctioned laws, and self-defense are still permissible.

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Exodus 20:14

Notice that adultery is listed right after murder. It is a sin that is a reflection of the loyalty to God that His people are supposed to have. It is the most extreme kind of unfaithfulness. It is worse than talking bad about your spouse, insulting your spouse in public, refusing to provide food and shelter for your spouse, even worse than physical abuse – everything but killing your spouse. Sex is only for married people, and it is only to be done within a one man-one woman marriage relationship.

Thou shalt not steal.

Exodus 20:15

The eighth Word highlights God’s endorsement of private property – which would have held special significance for former slaves such as the Israelites.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Exodus 20:16

The ninth Word prohibits perjury, but, by extension, all other forms or lying or deceit as well. In the Bible, a “neighbor” is more than the person who lives next door to you. It is anyone with whom you deal. The commandment also prohibits spreading lies about others to damage their reputation.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Exodus 20:17

The examples in the commandment against coveting are intended as an illustrative, not an exclusive, list of things not to covet. Covetousness is a desire to have for myself what God has given to another. It includes the sins of greed, dissatisfaction, discontentment, ingratitude, scheming, and envy. It is the only “word” that is unenforceable by the government, but it is not listed last because it is a lesser sin. It is listed last to highlight the idea that it is the sin that can cause us to break all the others. The greatest remedy to covetousness is contentment, and the only way to true contentment is faith that God really does know what is best.

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  1. […] said, Give God a tithe (one tenth); Christ says, surrender everything you have to God; Moses said, do not kill; Christ says, do not even hate your enemies; Moses said, do not commit adultery; Christ says, do […]

  2. […] that he die, shall be surely put to death” is very general – basically a restatement of the 6th Commandment. “And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a […]

  3. […] Decalogue’s 8th Word prohibited stealing, thereby promoting the principle of personal property. The Covenant Code […]

  4. […] have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is […]

  5. […] into their camp – women who did not have the same standards of purity and marital fidelity that God had commanded His people to […]

  6. […] Commandments in Catholic school, I know they don’t address homosexuality.” Actually the 7th Commandment (prohibiting adultery) does. The Bible’s definition of adultery would include having sex with […]

  7. […] Barzillai in II Samuel 19:331-19 is a positive example of respect shown toward the elderly, and the fifth Word of the Decalogue, by extension, commands us to honor those who make up the preceding generations of our families and […]

  8. […] of the command-fulfillment pattern was to illustrate externally what was happening internally. The commandment against coveting, for example, is difficult to document and verify, but the command to sew a scarlet and blue and […]

  9. […] the 3rd and 4th Commandments to Children (Exodus 20:7-8) * 34. Catechism Question 2 (Exodus 20:11) 35. The Horizontal Words (Exodus 20:12-17) 36. Frightening Words (Exodus 20:18-20) 37. Reverence as a Warning Against […]


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