Lesson 49: Exodus 20, Part 1
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“Lesson 49: Exodus 20, Part 1,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)

“Lesson 49,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 49

Exodus 20, Part 1


While the children of Israel were camped at Mount Sinai, God gave them the Ten Commandments. This lesson introduces the Ten Commandments and discusses the first five commandments in detail.

Note: This lesson provides an opportunity for three students to teach the class. To be sure these students have time to prepare, provide each student with a copy of the section he or she is to teach a day or two in advance. You could also choose to teach these sections yourself.

Suggestions for Teaching

Exodus 20:1–17

God gives the children of Israel the Ten Commandments

Explain that while the Israelites were gathered at the base of Mount Sinai, they heard the voice of God give the Ten Commandments to them from a cloud at the top of the mountain (see Deuteronomy 4:10–13; Exodus 19:9, 16–17; 20:18–19). Invite students to refer to the handout titled “Moses’s and Israel’s Experiences with Jehovah at Mount Sinai” (see lesson 48). (A completed version of the handout is located in the appendix of this manual.) Invite students to write the following on line 5 on the handout: God speaks the Ten Commandments to the Israelites.

To help students become familiar with the Ten Commandments, divide students into teams. List on the board the numbers 1 through 10 in one column for each team. Provide each team with a marker or a piece of chalk. Invite one student from each team to come to the board and write one of the Ten Commandments in their team’s designated column and then pass the marker or chalk to another student on his or her team. This will continue for two minutes with each team member writing an additional commandment or correcting one that is on the board. You may want to suggest that students try to write the commandments in their correct order. Students are not allowed to use their scriptures for this activity.

After the activity, ask the class the following question:

Ask several students to take turns reading aloud from Exodus 20:1–17. Invite the class to follow along and look for each of the Ten Commandments. You may want to suggest that students mark and number each commandment in their scriptures. After the verses are read, invite students to evaluate their lists on the board. Invite them to note how many of the commandments they listed correctly and in the proper order.

Explain that keeping the Ten Commandments would prepare the Israelites to receive greater blessings.

  • How would you respond to someone who says that the Ten Commandments were only meant for people in the Bible and do not apply to us today?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Thomas S. Monson:

Monson, Thomas S.

“Although the world has changed, the laws of God remain constant. They have not changed; they will not change. The Ten Commandments are just that—commandments. They are not suggestions. They are every bit as requisite today as they were when God gave them to the children of Israel” (“Stand in Holy Places,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 83).

  • What stands out to you about President Monson’s statement?

The rest of this lesson is designed for three students to teach. The student teachers may take turns teaching the entire class, or the class could divide into three groups and rotate between teachers. Allow each student teacher about eight minutes to teach.

Student Teacher 1—Exodus 20:2–7

Ask your classmates to ponder how they would respond if someone asked them what their first priority is in life. (Do not ask them to share their responses.)

Ask a classmate to state the first commandment. Then ask the following questions:

  • What do you think it means when the Lord said, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3)? (As your classmates respond, you may need to point out that our worship of God should be our highest priority and we should give exclusive devotion to Him.)

  • What did God forbid in the second commandment? (Making and worshipping graven images, or idols.)

  • How is the Lord described in verse 5? (“A jealous God.”)

To help your classmates understand this use of the word jealous, invite a student to read the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Oaks, Dallin H.

“The meaning of jealous is revealing. Its Hebrew origin means ‘possessing sensitive and deep feelings’ (Exodus 20:5, footnote b). Thus we offend God when we ‘serve’ other gods—when we have other first priorities” (“No Other Gods,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 72).

  • What priorities may we be tempted to place ahead of worshipping God?

  • Why do you think it may be hurtful to the Lord when He sees us placing these other priorities above our worship of Him?

Ask a student to read Exodus 20:6 aloud. Invite your classmates to follow along, looking for what the Lord promises to those who love Him and keep His commandments.

  • What principle can we learn from verse 6? (Your classmates may use different words, but they should identify the following principle: If we love God and keep His commandments, then He will show us mercy.)

Explain that in verse 6, the word mercy does not mean only forgiveness of sin. It includes all of the ways the Lord reaches out to bless us, such as giving us strength, assurance, support, protection, and guidance. Invite students to ponder the following question for a moment before asking them to respond:

  • When have you felt the Lord’s mercy as you have shown your love for Him and kept His commandments? (You may also want to share an experience.)

Invite a classmate to read Exodus 20:7 aloud.

  • What does it mean to take the name of God in vain? (To use the names of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, including titles such as God and Lord, lightly, irreverently, or disrespectfully, or to violate covenants that have been made in Their names.)

  • How does obeying the commandment to not take the name of God in vain show our love for Him?

Encourage your classmates to make worshipping God their highest priority by choosing to love Him and keep His commandments. Explain that as they do this, they will experience His mercy in their lives.

Student Teacher 2—Exodus 20:8–11

Ask your classmates the following questions:

  • What was a special day in your life that you will always want to remember? Why is that day important to you?

Invite a classmate to read Exodus 20:8–11 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for a special day the Lord wants us to remember.

After the verses have been read, ask your classmates the following questions:

  • According to Exodus 20:10, whom does the Sabbath day belong to?

  • How did the Sabbath become a holy day?

Explain that the Sabbath is the Lord’s day and is holy. Because the Sabbath day is already holy, our responsibility is to keep it holy.

  • Based on verses 9–10, what must we do to keep the Sabbath a holy day? (Students may use different words, but they should identify the following principle: Resting from our labors on the Sabbath can help us keep it a holy day.)

  • How can obeying the instructions in verse 9 help us obey the instructions in verse 10?

  • What are some other ways that we can keep the Sabbath a holy day? (If your classmates need help with some ideas, see Doctrine and Covenants 59:9–10 and For the Strength of Youth [booklet, 2011], 30–31).

  • How have you been blessed as you have kept the Sabbath a holy day?

You may want to explain why the Sabbath day is important to you and how you have been blessed by keeping the Sabbath a holy day.

Student Teacher 3—Exodus 20:12

Remind your classmates of the commandment to honor our fathers and mothers (see Exodus 20:12). Then ask:

  • Why do you think the way we treat our parents is important to the Lord?

Ask a classmate to read Exodus 20:12 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the blessing the Lord promised to those who obey the commandment to honor their fathers and mothers.

Explain that the land referred to in verse 12 was the land of Canaan, which had been promised to the children of Israel if they kept their covenants with the Lord. However, they learned that if they broke their covenants they would be driven from the land and scattered (see Deuteronomy 4:23–38). We can learn the following principle from verse 12: As we honor our parents, the Lord will bless us.

  • What do you think it means to honor your father and mother? (If needed, you may want to point out that we honor our parents as we show love and respect for them. We also bring honor to them as we live righteously.)

  • How can a person honor a parent who is not living righteously or who teaches his or her children to do things that are contrary to Heavenly Father’s commandments? (As your classmates respond, you may want to point out that the commandment to honor our parents comes after the first commandment to love and serve Heavenly Father above all else [see Exodus 20:3; Matthew 22:35–39]. In addition, we can show love and respect for our earthly parents even when they are not perfect.)

  • How have you been blessed as you have honored your parents?

You may want to display a picture of your parents or guardians. You might share an experience you have had when you honored them and were blessed as you did so. Invite your classmates to consider what they might do to more fully honor their parents.

After each of the student teachers has taught, invite a few students to explain to the class what they learned. As part of the discussion of what they learned about the first two commandments, consider reading aloud the following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson:

Benson, Ezra Taft

“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities” (“The Great Commandment—Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988, 4).

Invite students to write in their scripture study journals or notebooks what they can do to improve their efforts to keep the commandments they learned about today.

Conclude with your testimony of the principles students discussed.

Commentary and Background Information

Exodus 20:3–17. The Ten Commandments were not new

President Spencer W. Kimball taught that the Ten Commandments had been known by Adam:

“Moses came down from the quaking, smoking Mount Sinai and brought to the wandering children of Israel the Ten Commandments, fundamental rules for the conduct of life. These commandments were, however, not new. They had been known to Adam and his posterity, who had been commanded to live them from the beginning and were merely reiterated by the Lord to Moses. And the commandments even antedated earth life and were part of the test for mortals established in the council of heaven” (“Why Call Me Lord, Lord, and Do Not the Things Which I Say?” Ensign, May 1975, 7).

Exodus 20:3–17. The Ten Commandments

Elder Carlos E. Asay of the Seventy shared a statement by Cecil B. DeMille, director of the 1956 film The Ten Commandments, and then explained that God’s commandments are evidence of His love for us:

“Cecil B. DeMille said: ‘We are too inclined to think of law as something … hemming us in. We sometimes think of law as the opposite of liberty. But that is a false conception. … God does not contradict Himself. He did not create man and then, as an afterthought, impose upon him a set of arbitrary, irritating, restrictive rules. He made man free—and then gave him the Commandments to keep him free. … We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them—or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fulness of freedom under God. God means us to be free. With divine daring, he gave us the power of choice’ (Commencement Address, BYU Speeches of the Year, Provo, 31 May 1957, pp. 4–6).

“I regard each law and each commandment as an expression of God’s divine love. He loved us enough to provide some ‘thou shalts’ and some ‘thou shalt nots.’ And, on occasion, he has simply challenged us to exercise judgment and to use wisdom. All is done by a loving Father in Heaven who warns and forewarns his children” (“Would You Sell?” New Era, May 1985, 39–40).

Exodus 20:3–5. The relationship between having “no other gods before me” and idolatry

President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“Whatever thing a man sets his heart and his trust in most is his god; and if his god doesn’t also happen to be the true and living God of Israel, that man is laboring in idolatry” (“The False Gods We Worship,” Ensign, June 1976, 4).

President Kimball also taught:

“Modern idols or false gods can take such forms as clothes, homes, businesses, machines, automobiles, pleasure boats, and numerous other material deflectors from the path to godhood. What difference does it make that the item concerned is not shaped like an idol? Brigham Young said: ‘I would as soon see a man worshipping a little god made of brass or wood as to see him worshipping his property.’

“Intangible things make just as ready gods. Degrees and letters and titles become idols. …

“… Young married couples who postpone parenthood until their degrees are attained might be shocked if their expressed preference were labeled idolatry. …

“Many worship the hunt, the fishing trip, the vacation, the weekend picnics and outings. … These pursuits more often than not interfere with the worship of the Lord and with giving service to the building up of the kingdom of God” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969], 40–41).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught the following about the first two of the Ten Commandments:

“The first two of these commandments direct our worship and our priorities. …

“… The question posed by the second commandment is ‘What is our ultimate priority?’ Are we serving priorities or gods ahead of the God we profess to worship? Have we forgotten to follow the Savior who taught that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments? (see John 14:15). If so, our priorities have been turned upside down by the spiritual apathy and undisciplined appetites so common in our day.

“… We must never dilute our first priority—to have no other gods and to serve no other priorities ahead of God the Father and His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ” (“No Other Gods,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 72–73, 75).

Exodus 20:7. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”

President Spencer W. Kimball shared the following experience:

“In the hospital one day I was wheeled out of the operating room by an attendant who stumbled, and there issued from his angry lips vicious cursing with a combination of the names of the Savior. Even half-conscious, I recoiled and implored: ‘Please! Please! That is my Lord whose names you revile.’ There was a deathly silence, then a subdued voice whispered: ‘I am sorry’” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 198).

“There is an additional implication in the commandment to avoid taking the name of God in vain. An integral part of living the gospel is the making of oaths and covenants with God. When a person is baptized he covenants to take the name of Christ upon himself (see D&C 20:37). If he forgets that solemn oath made at baptism, he has taken the name of the Lord in vain. At temple altars men and women covenant to abide by sacred commitments. If they leave those temples and live as though the promises have no meaning, they violate the third commandment even though they may not speak actual profanity. Those who take the sacrament each week with little or no thought for the covenant to take His name upon them, keep His commandments, and always remember Him, take His name in vain. Such light treatment of sacred things constitutes vainness in the sight of God. The Lord Himself said in modern revelation, ‘Wherefore, let all men beware how they take my name in their lips—for behold, verily I say, that many there be who are under this condemnation, who use the name of the Lord, and use it in vain, having not authority’ (D&C 63:61–62).

“In addition to religious oaths and covenants, many formal acts in modern society are accompanied by solemn oaths and vows. And yet frequently these oaths are dismissed or set aside. Clearly the violation of such oaths is a violation of the third commandment also” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 129).

Exodus 20:12. “Honour thy father and thy mother”

President Ezra Taft Benson spoke of the importance of honoring our parents, whether or not they are active in the Church (see “A Message to the Rising Generation,” Ensign, Nov. 1977, 31–32).