The first four commandments are part of the Ten Commandments (also known as the Decalogue) which are ten laws in the Bible that God gave to the nation of Israel shortly after the exodus from Egypt.
The Ten Commandments are essentially a summary of the 613 commandments contained in the Old Testament Law. The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God. The last six commandments deal with our relationships with one another.
The Ten Commandments are recorded in the Biblical text of Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21 and are as follows:
1) “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Exodus. 20:3. This command is against worshipping any god other than the one true God. All other gods are false gods.
2) “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:4–6
This command is against making an idol, a visible representation of God. There is no image we can create that can accurately portray God. To make an idol to represent God is to worship a false god.
3) “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Exodus 20:7
This is a command against taking the name of the Lord in vain. We are not to treat God’s name lightly. We are to show reverence to God by only mentioning Him in respectful and honoring ways.
4) “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:8–11
This is a command to set aside the Sabbath (at the time of this command Saturday, as the last day of the week) a day of rest dedicated to the Lord.
5) “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.
This is a command to always treat one’s parents with honor and respect.
6) “Thou shalt not kill.” Exodus 20:13
This is a command against the premeditated murder of another human being.
7) “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14
This is a command against have sexual relations with anyone other than one’s spouse.
8) “Thou shalt not steal.” Exodus 20:15
This is a command against taking anything that is not one’s own, without the permission of the person to whom it belongs.
9) “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” Exodus 20:16
This is a command prohibiting testifying against another person falsely. It is essentially a command against lying.
10) “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
This is a command against desiring anything that is not one’s own. Coveting can lead to breaking one of the commandments listed above: murder, adultery, and theft. If it is wrong to do something, it is wrong to desire to do that same something.
Many people mistakenly look at the Ten Commandments as a set of rules that, if followed, will guarantee entrance into heaven after death. In contrast, the purpose of the Ten Commandments is to force people to realize that they cannot perfectly obey the Law and are therefore in need of God’s mercy and grace. (Romans 7:7-11)
“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit”. Romans 8:3–4
Despite the claims of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16, no one can perfectly obey the Ten Commandments (Ecclesiastes 7:20). The Ten Commandments demonstrate that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and are therefore in need of God’s mercy and grace, available only through faith in Jesus Christ.