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Bible: What Does Exodus 19-20 Teach Us About the "Ten Words"?

Updated on August 20, 2016

The Ten Commandments

Prepare to Meet Yahweh/The "Ten Words"

Yahweh "Cuts a Covenant" with Moses

“In the third month” and “on the same day,” Israel arrives at Sinai from Rephidim (v. 1; cf. 17:8) and camps before the mountain (v. 2).

[Exodus 16:1 relates an event that occurred one month after the Exodus; here the date appears to be the fifteenth day of the third month (therefore, two months) after their departure.]

Moses goes up to God, and the LORD tells him to remind Israel of His mighty deliverance and sustenance (“bore you on eagles’ wings”) [vv. 3-4].

Then He “cuts” [karath berith] a conditional covenant [“If”] with them that promises glorious privileges (namely, being His “special treasure,”“a kingdom of priests,”“a holy nation”) [vv. 5-6] for obedience to the stipulations.

[Collectively, they would represent other peoples before God.]

Having received the people’s willingness to enter into this covenant, Moses brings back word to Yahweh, who further sets him apart as their leader (vv. 7-9).


Yahweh's Awesome Appearance on Day Three

The LORD instructs Moses to consecrate Israel for two days, for on day three He would appear to them (vv. 10-11).

He also lays down a law of specific boundaries regarding the mountain; any transgressor would suffer capital punishment either by stones or arrows (vv. 12-13).

Moses obeys Yahweh’s word, especially stressing sexual purity (vv. 14-15).

On the third morning Israel experiences genuine fright: thunder, lightning, a thick cloud, and a deafening trumpet blast that calls them “to the foot of the mountain” (vv. 16-17).

God comes down on the mountain in appearance as fire; smoke envelops the site and the ground quakes (v. 18).

As the trumpet blasts grow louder, God responds to Moses as he cries out to Him, and Yahweh calls him to the hilltop (vv. 19-20).

[Was an angel (or angels) blowing the trumpet (s)?]

Yahweh's Warning

Quickly, Yahweh commands Moses to go down and warn the people about “breaking through” to see Him (v. 21).

Immediate death (“breaking out,” vv. 22-24; cf. 2 Sam. 6:7, 8) comes to anyone, even a priest, who approaches Him unconsecrated (v. 22).

[Moses uses the words “sanctified” and “consecrated” four times in total in this chapter (vv. 10, 14, 22-23)].

Moses’ response about the law of the boundary (v. 23) draws a mild rebuke from the LORD (v. 24a); he and Aaron are the only ones He permits to come up (v. 24b).

In obedience, Moses goes down and tells them God’s command (v. 25).

[Why did Moses question the LORD’s warning?]

The Ten Commandments

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Keeping the Sabbath

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Exodus 20

Word #1--Worship Only the LORD

Verses one through seventeen constitutes Yahweh’s giving of the Ten “Words”/ the Decalogue (v. 1) to Moses and Israel.

The LORD first establishes Who He is, Israel’s Savior (v. 2); on that basis, He commands His people to worship only Him (v. 3).

[The text literally says, “. . . no other gods beforeMy face,” which may also signify, “Do not let Me see you associating with any other so-called gods.”]

Words #2 and #3--Against Idolatry and Profaning God's name

The second “word” focuses on the making of idols (vv. 4-5a) and the reason for Yahweh’s prohibition of this practice (vv. 5b-6).

The idol diminishes the glory and uniqueness of the LORD if worshipers create it to resemble Him or one of His attributes (vv. 4-5a; cf. Exo. 32).

God is “jealous,” i.e., He is zealous to protect His holy name/reputation, and will not allow His people to tarnish or misrepresent it, punishing the future generations/descendants of those who “hate” Him (v. 5b).

On the other hand, He will show mercy to obedient worshipers (v. 6). Word three prohibits the profanation of the LORD’s name (v. 7).

“Taking the name of the LORD your God in vain” involves making false oaths, using God’s name as “backup.”

Such behavior attempts to make the LORD of truth an accessory in the telling of a falsehood.

Word #4--Keep the Sabbath Holy

Verses eight through eleven, the fourth commandment, revolves around setting apart the Sabbath as a special day (v. 8), for it is the only one on which no man or animal shall work (v. 10).

The Creator Himself exemplifies One Who “worked” six days and “rested” on the seventh (v. 11).

[Has Resurrection Day superseded this commandment during the Church Age?]

Thus Moses finishes recording man’s responsibilities in his relationship with God; the last six commandments deal with horizontal relationships.

Word #5--Honor One's Parents

Commandment five discusses the right attitude children should have toward parents (v. 12): they should “honor” them.

As a result of such respectful behavior, the LORD promises Israel that they would live long in Land (v. 12b; cf. Eph. 6:1-3).

[Paul cites this passage about honoring parents and applies it to the Church.

Does the promise of living long apply in the Church age, or does it relate only to Israel’s living in the Land?]

Word #6--Do Not Murder

The last five commandments prohibit certain activities as well as the evil attitudes behind them.

Murder is the premeditated taking of another’s life (or of one’s own); in the NT, Jesus prohibits showing anger against one’s brother without a cause as the attitude that may lead to murder (v. 13; cf. Matt. 5:21-26).

The commandment is not against the legitimate killing of others (as in self-defense), only against murder.

[The Scriptures also offer solutions to unpremeditated killings; e.g., Ex. 21:12-14].



Words #7 through #10--Do Not Commit Adultery; Do Not Steal; Do Not Lie; Do Not Covet

Adultery—number seven—also starts in the heart (looking at a woman with inordinate desire), and culminates in the actual performance of the sin with the married individual (v. 14; cf. Matt. 5:27-30).

The eighth word says, “No,” to stealing: an illegal activity that Moses delineates with various examples later in torah (v. 15).

Lying, or bearing false witness against one’s neighbor, runs counter to the character of the all-holy, all-righteous God of truth (v. 16).

[Again, illustrations of this behavior appear later].

Finally, Moses lays down the law against various practices of covetousness—the willful desire to possess something or someone that belongs to someone else (v. 17; cf. Rom. 7:7-8).

Putting the Fear of God into Israel

Sinai’s tumultuous environment causes such a fear among the people that they ask that only Moses speak with them, not God (vv. 18-19; cf. Deut. 18:17).

Israel’s great leader informs them that Yahweh seeks only to put the fear of Him into them to prevent their sinning against Him (v. 20).

The event surely succeeded famously among them, yet Moses is quite the opposite, boldly approaching the LORD’s presence (v. 21; cf. Heb. 4:16).

The LORD commands Moses to repeat to Israel His prohibition against making other gods to be with Him, i.e., to compete, be on the same level (vv. 22-23; cf. v. 3).

He also warns against building a hewn altar of stone, for their hewing tools would profane the altar; instead, Israel must sacrifice from a natural earthen or stone altar (vv. 24-25).

Yahweh does not allow priests to ascend steps to an altar, for that action would expose flesh (v. 26; cf. Ex. 28:42-43).

[God gave these rules to prevent Israel, His children, from becoming like pagan worshipers].

© 2012 glynch1


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