From The Beginning of the End by E.G. White
God intended to make the event of speaking His law a scene of awe-inspiring grandeur. Everything connected with the service of God must be thought of with the greatest reverence. The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. … For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” Everyone was to spend the time in solemn preparation to appear before God. Their bodies and their clothing must be free from impurity. They were to devote themselves to searching their hearts for any wrong, fasting, and prayer, that their hearts might be cleansed from iniquity.
On the morning of the third day, Sinai’s summit was covered with a thick cloud, black and dense, sweeping downward until the entire mountain was shrouded in darkness and mystery. Then a sound like a trumpet was heard, calling the people to meet with God. From the thick darkness lightnings flashed, while peals of thunder echoed among the surrounding heights. “Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire … and the whole mountain quaked greatly.” All of Israel shook with fear and fell on their faces before the Lord. Even Moses exclaimed, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling” (Hebrews 12:21).
Now the thunder stopped, the trumpet was no longer heard, and the earth was still. There was a period of solemn silence; then the voice of God was heard. Speaking out of the thick darkness as He stood on the mountain, surrounded by angels, the Lord made known His law.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The One who had brought them out of Egypt, making a way for them through the sea, and overthrowing Pharaoh and his army—He was the One who now spoke His law.
God honored the Hebrews by making them the guardians and keepers of His law, but they were to hold it as a sacred trust for the whole world. The laws of the Ten Commandments are adapted to people everywhere, and they were given for the instruction and government of all. Ten commandments, brief, comprehensive, and authoritative, cover our duty to God and to other people, and all are based on the great fundamental principle of love. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). In the Ten Commandments these principles are applied to our lives.
(1) “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Whatever we cherish that tends to lessen our love for God or to interfere with the service that is rightfully His—of that we make a god.
(2) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.”
Many heathen nations claimed that their images were only symbols by which the Deity was worshiped, but God has declared such worship to be sin. The attempt to represent the Eternal One by material objects would lower our concepts of God. Our minds would be attracted to the creature rather than to the Creator, and as our concepts of God were lowered, the human race would become degraded.
“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” The close relation of God to His people is represented by the illustration of marriage. Since idolatry is spiritual adultery, the displeasure of God against it is fittingly called jealousy.
“Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me.” Children are not punished for their parents’ guilt, except as they take part in their sins. Usually, however, by inheritance and example the children become partakers of the parents’ sin. Wrong tendencies, perverted appetites, and debased morals, as well as physical disease and decline, are passed along from parent to child, to the third and fourth generation.
“Showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” To those who are faithful in His service, God promises mercy, not merely to the third and fourth generation like the wrath threatened against those who hate Him, but to thousands of generations.
(3) “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
This commandment forbids us to use the name of God in a light or careless manner. By the thoughtless mention of God in common conversation, and by frequent, thoughtless repetition of His name, we dishonor Him. “Holy and awesome is His name” (Psalm 111:9). We should speak it with reverence and solemnity.
(4) “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
The Sabbath is not introduced as a new institution but as having been established at creation. Pointing to God as the Maker of the heavens and the earth, it tells the difference between the true God from false gods, so the Sabbath is the sign of our allegiance to God. The fourth commandment is the only one of the ten in which we find both the name and the title of the Lawgiver—the only one that shows by whose authority the law is given—as it contains the seal of God.
God has given us six days in which to work, and He requires that we do our work in those six days. Acts of necessity and mercy are permitted on the Sabbath. The sick and suffering are always to be cared for, but we should strictly avoid unnecessary work. To keep the Sabbath holy, we should not even allow our minds to dwell on things of a worldly character. And the commandment includes everyone within our “gates” (meaning our homes). All the members of the household are to set aside their worldly business during the sacred hours. All should unite to honor God by their willing service on His holy day.
(5) “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
Parents are entitled to a degree of love and respect owed to no other person. To reject the rightful authority of one’s parents is also to reject the authority of God. The fifth commandment requires children not only to respect, submit to, and obey their parents, but also to give them love and tenderness, to lighten their cares, to guard their reputation, and  to care for and comfort them in old age. It also requires respect for ministers and rulers and for all others to whom God has given authority.
(6) “You shall not murder.”
All acts of injustice that tend to shorten life—the spirit of hatred and revenge, or indulging any passion that leads to injurious acts toward others (even to wish them harm, for “whoever hates his brother is a murderer”), a selfish neglect of caring for the needy, self-indulgence or overwork that tends to injure health—all these are, to a greater or less degree, violations of the sixth commandment.
(7) “You shall not commit adultery.”
God’s law demands purity not only in the outward life but in the secret intents and emotions of the heart. Christ, who taught the far-reaching obligation of the law of God, declared that the evil thought or look is as truly sin as is the unlawful deed.
(8) “You shall not steal.”
This prohibition condemns kidnapping and slave dealing, wars of conquest, theft and robbery. It demands strict honesty in the smallest details of life. It forbids shady business dealings and requires the payment of rightful debts or wages. Every attempt to gain advantage by the ignorance, weakness, or misfortune of another is registered as fraud in the books of heaven.
(9) “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
An intention to deceive is what makes a lie. By a glance of the eye, a motion of the hand, an expression of the face, we may tell a lie as effectively as by words. It is a lie even to state the facts in such a way as to mislead. Every effort to injure our neighbor’s reputation by misrepresentation, slander, or gossip, and even hiding truth in order to injure others, is a violation of the ninth commandment.
(10) “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
The tenth commandment strikes at the very root of all sins—it prohibits the selfish desire, from which springs the sinful act. The person who refuses to indulge even a sinful desire for something that belongs to another will not be guilty of a wrong act toward anyone else.
God proclaimed His law with demonstrations of His power and glory, so that His people would never forget the scene. He wanted to show everyone the sacredness and permanence of His law.
Blinded and depraved by slavery and heathenism, the people were not prepared to fully understand the far-reaching principles of God’s Ten Commandments. Additional instruction was given, illustrating and applying these principles. These laws were called “judgments” because the magistrates were to give judgment according to them. Unlike the Ten Commandments, they were delivered privately to Moses.
The first of these related to servants. A Hebrew could not be sold as a slave for life. His service was limited to six years and on the seventh he was to be set free. The holding of non-Israelites as slaves was permitted, but their life and person were strictly guarded. The murderer of a slave was to be punished, and an injury inflicted on a slave by his master, even if no more than the loss of a tooth, entitled him to his freedom.
The Israelites were to be careful not to indulge the spirit of cruelty like that which they had suffered under their Egyptian taskmasters. The memory of their own bitter experience should enable them to put themselves in the servant’s place, and to be kind and compassionate.
The rights of widows and orphans were specially guarded. “If you afflict them in any way,” the Lord declared, “and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” Foreigners who united themselves with Israel were to be protected from wrong or oppression. “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Charging interest on a loan to the poor was forbidden. A poor person’s garment or blanket taken as a pledge for a loan must be given back at evening time. Judges were warned against perverting justice, aiding a false cause, or receiving bribes. Slander was prohibited, and acts of kindness were required even toward personal enemies.
The people were reminded of the sacred obligation of the Sabbath. Yearly feasts were appointed, at which all the men of the nation were to assemble before the Lord, bringing to Him their offerings of gratitude and the first fruits of His provision of crops. The purpose of all these regulations was stated—all were given for the good of Israel. The Lord said, “You shall be holy men to Me.”
These laws were to be recorded by Moses and carefully treasured as the foundation of the national law, and, with the ten precepts, as the condition of God’s fulfilling His promises to Israel.
The message was now given, “Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him.” Christ in the pillar of cloud and of fire was their Leader. While there were symbols or “types” pointing to  a Savior to come, there was also a present Savior, who gave commands to Moses for the people and was presented to them as the only channel of blessing.