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Exodus: Chapter 20

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Text view alone

1Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before a Or kill me.

4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation b Sam Gk Syr Vg: MT they saw of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

13You shall not murder. c Or to the judges

14You shall not commit adultery.

15You shall not steal.

16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

18When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid d Heb of her and trembled and stood at a distance, 19and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” 21Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

22The LORD said to Moses: Thus you shall say to the Israelites: “You have seen for yourselves that I spoke with you from heaven. 23You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your offerings of well‐being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. 25But if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones; for if you use a chisel upon it you profane it. 26You shall not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.”


c Or kill

d Sam Gk Syr Vg: MT they saw

a Or to the judges

b Heb of her

Text Commentary view alone

20.1–17 : The Ten Commandments,

the epitome of the covenant obligations toward God and neighbor (Deut 5.6–21 ). All are in unconditional and absolute (apodictic) second‐person masculine singular form.

1 :

These words, “the ten words” or the Decalogue ( 34.28; Deut 4.13; 10.4 ). “Words” is more suitable than commandments. Nowhere does the Bible establish how these ten should be enumerated, and there was a diversity of views on this already in antiquity.

2 :

This self‐identification summarizes the meaning of the Exodus, thereby setting command within the context of God's liberating action. In Jewish tradition this is the first “word.”

3 :

This “word,” the first commandment in Christian tradition, does not deny the existence of other gods, but asserts that Israel shall acknowledge no other gods than the God who has liberated them ( 5.2n.; 12.12; 15.11 ).

4–6 :

Imageless worship of God ( 20.23 ) distinguishes Israel's religion from those of its neighbors, where deities were typically depicted in animal or human form. Some consider vv. 3–6 as one commandment.

5 :

A jealous God who will tolerate no rivals for Israel's devotion ( 34.14 ).

7 :

A prohibition of the misuse of the divine name in magic, divination, or false swearing (Lev 19.12 ).

8–11 :

Keeping the sabbath, or seventh day of the week, holy means to observe it as a day separated from others, a segment of time belonging especially to God. Since v. 11 refers to the Priestly creation story (Gen 1.1–2.3 ), this version of the ten words is often called the Priestly Decalogue.

10 :

16.22–30n. Since the Ten Commandments are in the masculine singular and addressed to individual males, wives are absent here (contrast v. 12 ).

11 :

Compare the reasons in 23.12; Deut 5.15 .

12 :

In contrast to vv. 10 and 17 , the woman is treated equally, precisely because she is a mother ( 21.15,17; Deut 27.16 ).

13 :

This commandment forbids murder, not the forms of killing authorized for Israel, such as war and capital punishment.

15 :

Steal, the same word is translated “kidnap” in 21.16 .

17 :

Some see two commandments here. However, neighbor's house, or household, introduces what is named in the second part of the verse: wife, male or female slave, etc. This final command shows most clearly that the commandments address the adult male.

20.18–21 : The people request

that Moses be the covenant mediator ( 19.9n. ) so that they need not hear God's voice directly (Deut 5.4–5 ). The fear of the people is interpreted positively in Deut 5.22–23; 18.15–18 , which view this as the beginning of institutionalized prophecy.

20.22–23.19 : The Covenant Collection, or Book of the Covenant

(see 24.7 ). This legislation begins and ends with commands regarding ritual ( 20.22–26; 23.10–19 ), so that worship surrounds social legislation. The laws presuppose a settled agricultural society ( 22.5–6 ). They reflect Israelite life in Canaan, when laws of the surrounding culture were borrowed and adapted to the covenant tradition. Most scholars see this as the earliest of the biblical law collections.

20.22–26 : Regulations for worship,

in unconditional second‐person style (like the Ten Commandments, 20.2–17 ), continued in 22.18–23.19 .

22–23 :

20.4–6n.; Deut 4.15–40 .

24–26 :

On the types of offerings, see Lev 1; 3 . The Israelite altar is to be built wherever I cause my name to be remembered, in other words, choose to reveal my presence. Contrast the reform of centralized worship demanded in Deut 12.5–14 .

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