The Decalogue (Ex 20:1-20:21)

“Then God spoke all these words.  ‘I am Yahweh, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.’” 

The big dispute about the 10 Commandments begins here.  Originally these commandments may have been simple short utterances. The first three are about relationships to God, and they are fairly complex, while the next seven are about how you are to conduct yourself with your neighbor.

1)      There is some confusion about the first one, since part of this might be a preamble. Is it two or one commandment?  In other words, Yahweh is number one God because there may be others behind him.  No other gods should come before him.  However, Yahweh is the  one who saved the Israelites from Egypt

 “You 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.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them for I Yahweh 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, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” 

1a) Here comes the second part of the first commandment or is it the first commandment.  In any case it is very long.  Do not make any idols. Do not worship false idols. This jealous Yahweh God becomes the basis for the monotheism of the Judaic, the Christian, and the Muslim concepts of God.  He will reward and punish in future generations.

 “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not accept anyone who misuses his name.”

2)      This is relatively simple.  The normal translation of this is not to take the name of God in vain.  You should not misuse the name of God.  Somehow this has become known as swearing.

“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh, your God.  You shall not do any work.  This pertains to you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day.  Therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”

3)      Here in the priestly tradition, there is a long section on the Sabbath that starts with a simple admonition.  The Sabbath is not so much a day of worship but a day of rest from work for the whole household, even the slaves, aliens and livestock.  Notice the reference to the Genesis chapter 1, about the creation story from the same priestly author.

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

4)      Now we switch from God to our fellow men.  Coming first is our parents.  You will live long if you take care of your parents.  A further admonition will make this even stronger.

 “You shall not murder.”

5)      Next up are the three simple comments. You shall not kill.  There is no indication of any nuance, but clearly Yahweh has killed the first born in Egypt and in the Red Sea disaster.  He also ordered the Levites to kill their fellow idolatrous Israelites.

“You shall not commit adultery.”

6)      There are no explanations or exceptions.  Having sex with a married person who is not your wife or husband is wrong.  Obviously the meaning of this has been extended to other sexual activities.

 “You shall not steal.”

7)      Once again there are no nuances about borrowing or anything like that.  You cannot take something that does not belong to you.

 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

8)      This is not exactly lying in general, but lying against your neighbor, perhaps in some sort of legal setting.

 “You 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.”

9)      Once again, we are faced with the problem.  Is this one commandment or two?  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house is simple enough.

10)  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Clearly this is one commandment since the wife was considered part of your neighbor’s house.  Here is the ‘covet’ concept, not actually stealing, but desiring to steal the house itself, and anything in the house such as the wife, slaves, livestock, or any possession.

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

After all the thunder, lightning, trumpet blasts, and smoke, they were afraid.  So there it is, what a great show, strobe lights and all.  There is no mention of tablets is this passage just an oral conversation with Moses.  The fear of Yahweh has been fairly established.  The fact that people were told not to do these things is an indication that they might have been doing these things.  We never have laws against things that people are not doing.  In other words, people were worshiping false gods, using God’s name in vain, working on the Sabbath, disrespecting their parents, killing people, lying about things, having sex with someone they are not married to, stealing things, and desiring to take things from others. I will compare the wording of these 10 words and that of Deuteronomy, when I get to that book.

You can reverse these negative commandments with positive blessings.  You are blessed to be able to worship the one true God, so therefore you do not need to have false material gods in the place of the real God.  As the name of God is a holy name you do not use it in vain, thus you respect it.  The world is yours to use and not misuse so that you need a day of rest.  You keep Sunday as a day of rest and worship.  You honor your parents because the family is the basis of all society.  Life is precious so that obviously you do not kill anyone.  You respect the property of others so that you do not steal from anyone.  Truth is so important that you do not lie.  Your neighbor’s wife has dignity and worth so you do not commit adultery.  You respect the goods of others so that you do not desire or covet them.  Here we have the basis for Judeo-Christian culture, respect for God, our parents, our neighbors, their things, and all people

One thought on “The Decalogue (Ex 20:1-20:21)

  1. An easy way for parents to help their children to learn and remember the Ten Commandments.

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