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Go to Bible: Exodus 20
“Then God spoke.” The Ten Commandments were audibly spoken by God from the top of Mount Sinai to the people. The fact that the text says that “God [Elohim] spoke,” and not “Yahweh spoke” points to the fact that these commands were to be applicable to all people, not just Israel. The people were frightened by the voice of God and asked that He not speak to them anymore (Exod. 20:19, 22; Deut. 5:4, 22-27).
It is commonly taught that the first time Israel got the Ten Commandments was when Moses came down Mount Sinai with them, but that is not accurate. Israel personally had the Ten Commandments spoken to them directly by God (Exod. 20:1-17). It was later that Moses went up on Mount Sinai and got the commandments on stone—and even then Moses broke those first tablets (Exod. 24:15-18; 31:18; 32:19). The second set of stone tablets were made by Moses but written on by God (Exod. 34:1-4).
At this time, when Yahweh spoke the Ten Commandments to Israel, Moses was down at the foot of the Mountain with the people. He had come down (his third trip down) in Exodus 19:25, and he did not go back up for his fourth time up until Exodus 20:21, and he came back down with an important part of the Law in Exodus 24:3.
[For more on God speaking the Ten Commandments directly to the Israelites, see commentary on Exodus 19:9. For more on Moses’ seven trips up and down Mount Sinai, see commentary on Exod. 19:3].(top)
“I am Yahweh your God.” The First Commandment of the Ten Commandments is two verses long (Exod. 20:2-3).(top)
“You.” The “you” is singular from the singular verb. The Hebrew is more literally, “Not will be to you.” The word “must” in our translation comes from the vocabulary and context. The NET (First Edition) text note reads, “The negative with the imperfect [aspect of the verb] expresses the emphatic prohibition; it is best reflected with ‘you will not’ and has the strongest expectation of obedience.”
We felt that the problem with the translation, “you will not,” is that, while it is accurate and in Hebrew expresses an emphatic prohibition, in English it expresses a future prohibition and one that could be confusing because it often turned out not to be factually true, such as when Israel worshipped pagan gods. The problem with the translation “You shall not” or “You shall have no” (ESV; NAB) is that it uses English that is almost never used anymore and can be unclear (years ago the first person use of “shall” referred to a future event while the second person and third person use of “shall” expressed strong determination, but now “shall” is used interchangeably with “will” and can express a prohibition or refer to a future event according to the context, but few people know that). We felt the translation, “Do not have” (HCSB) was good, but did not express the emphatic nature of the Hebrew text, whereas the translation, “You must not have” (NLT) was clear and also captured the emphatic nature of the command. The Ten Commandments are not just “good ideas,” they are God’s emphatic commands.
The impact of the singular instead of the plural in God’s commands cannot be overstated. God was speaking to all of the Israelites: they all heard His voice speaking the Ten Commandments. But God’s commandments were not to the “group;” the singular verbs show us that they were meant to be believed and acted upon individually by each person, and they continue to echo down through the ages in that same way. Each person decides for himself if he will keep God’s commands or ignore or defy them, and each person will stand before the throne on the Day of Judgment and be acquitted or condemned by his obedience or disobedience to God.
It is unfortunate that in English there is no distinction between the second person singular and plural, and thus there is no easy way to tell if “you” means you as an individual or “you all.” An expanded, but somewhat awkward, translation of Exodus 20:3 might be: “Each of you must not have any gods besides me,” or perhaps, “None of you is to have any other God besides me.” That same idea goes for all Ten Commandments. Each of us must honor our parents. Each of us must not murder. Each of us must not steal, and so forth.
In spite of the fact that it is commonly taught that the Ten Commandments were given when God gave them to Moses on stone tablets, that is not what happened. God spoke the Ten Commandments to all Israel in a loud voice off Mount Sinai (Exod. 20:2-17; Deut. 5:4, 20; Heb. 12:19). Moses did not get the stone tablets until much later (Exod. 31:18) and came down the mountain with them even later than that (Exod. 32:15). God’s voice frightened the Israelites, so they requested that Moses speak to God and then tell them what God had said (Exod. 20:18-19).(top)
“You must not make.” Exodus 20:4-6 is the Second Commandment of the Ten Commandments, and the Second Commandment is three verse long, Exodus 20:4-6.
“You…yourself.” The “you” is singular. See commentary on Exodus 20:3, “you.”
“carved image.” In the biblical culture this would include any image carved out of wood or stone. In its larger sense it would also include images made other ways as well. That is similar to Ephesians 5:18 which says not to be drunk on wine, but filled with the spirit. It is not like getting drunk on wine is forbidden but getting drunk on vodka is not. The wine is representative, and here in Exodus, the “carved image” is representative of other things that get worshipped. Leviticus 26:1 mentions other forbidden objects.(top)
“jealous.” God is a jealous God, not an envious God. Although in some languages the English words “jealousy” and “envy” are translated from the same word, envy and jealousy are not the same thing. “Envy” is when I don’t have something that someone else has and I want it, so I am envious. In contrast, “jealousy” is when I have something and I am afraid someone else will take it from me, so I am jealous. That is why we speak of a “jealous” husband; he is married to the wife but is afraid another man will lure her away from him. God is a “jealous” God in the sense that He is the God and Lord of people, but other gods and other interests are working to take His people away from Him. Interestingly, the cognate word to the Hebrew word for jealous here in Exodus 20:5 refers to being “red,” and we can picture God becoming hot—red-faced—with emotion when some other god tries to steal His people.
“visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children.” The Hebrew verb translated “visiting” is paqad (#06485 פָּקַד), and it often describes a divine intervention for blessing or cursing; the coming of good or evil. The NET text note on Genesis 21:1, when God “visited” Sarah, points out that when God “visits” that it “indicates God's special attention to an individual or a matter, always with respect to his people's destiny. He may visit (that is, destroy) the Amalekites [1 Sam. 15:2]; he may visit (that is, deliver) his people in Egypt [cp. Exod. 3:16]. …One's destiny is changed when the LORD ‘visits.’” Here in Exodus 20:5 (cp. Exod. 34:7; Num. 14:18), God “visits” the iniquity of the parents on the children.
The Bible has many examples of people being “visited” for good or for harm. For example, in Genesis 21:1, God visited Sarah and she got pregnant (cp. 1 Sam. 2:21). In Genesis 50:24-25, Joseph said God would visit Israel and bring them out of Egypt. In Exodus 3:16, God said he had visited the Israelites in slavery in Egypt, meaning He had seen their circumstances and had begun the process of delivering them. In Ruth 1:6, God “visited” Israel by ending the famine so there would be food. In Psalm 106:4, the psalmist asks to be “visited” with deliverance.
People can be visited for harm as well as for good. In psalm 59:5, the psalmist asks God to “visit” (punish) the nations, and in Psalm 89:32, God said he would “visit” with a rod because of people’s transgression. Proverbs 19:23 says the person who fears God will not be visited with evil. Isaiah 26:21 speaks of God coming to punish (“visit”) the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity.
“third and fourth generation.” This seems unreasonable to us today, but that is in part due to the fact that for most of us, our grandparents are over 50 and our great-grandparents are dead or close to death by the time we are born. That was not the case in the biblical world. It was quite common for a woman to have a child by 15, and so be a grandparent at around 30, a great-grandparent at about 45, and a great-great-grandparent around 60. Also, in contrast to today, in the biblical world families generally either lived together or in very close proximity. So if a person truly hated God and was sinful, hateful and devilish, the sin he would commit and the effects of that sin would affect everyone in his family for generations.
Parents can sin in such a way that their houses are afflicted by demons and their children are cursed. Furthermore, although those curses can be broken, they still adversely affect the children while they are in place. Also, it is common that children pick up the habits of the parents and members of the household such that the children end up participating in the evil of the parents and thus bring the consequences of their own sin upon them.
Ezekiel 18:20 says that the sons will not suffer punishment for the sins of the fathers, but that promise does not cover every sin. For one thing, we all know children who have suffered due to their parent’s sin. The context of Ezekiel 18:20 is everlasting life or everlasting death, and it is true that a parent’s sin and rejection of salvation will not keep a child from being saved. In contrast, one reason that parents should avoid sin and ungodliness is that it can harm the children, just as Exodus 20:5 says.(top)
|Exo 20:6||- (top)|
“You…your.” The “you” is singular. See commentary on Exodus 20:3, “you.” This is the Third Commandment, and it is just one verse long.
“misuse the name of Yahweh.” God’s name is holy, and people should treat it with respect. This command is often taught as if it meant, “Do not cuss using the name of God (or Jesus),” but it means much more than that. In fullness, it means that people are not to use God’s name for any useless, ungodly, or frivolous purpose. This would of course refer to using God’s name as a cuss word or obscenity, but it would also include many other useless or ungodly purposes. For example, no one is to use God’s name falsely in an oath. In the courtrooms in the USA, people swear on a Bible that they will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth “so help me God,” but some of the people who swear that oath then lie. That is misusing the name of Yahweh. Historically many people have sworn in court using God’s name so they seem sincere and hope to avoid getting caught. But the last half of the verse should weigh heavily upon them—“for Yahweh will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name”—because God always knows who misuses His name, and it is a serious sin. It shows the disregard that people have for God that they are more afraid of being caught in a crime by a human court than by God Almighty.
The command not to misuse the name of God was also important because in both ancient and modern times it was common practice to recite the name of God (or a god) as a part of the practice of magic, sorcery, or divination (sometimes the names were spelled or pronounced backwards). That is a terrible misuse of God’s name because God abhors the practice of magic and divination (Deut. 18:9-14).
In its larger sense, the “name” of God also includes the other designations by which He is known other than just “Yahweh.” We are not to misuse “names” such as El Shaddai, Elohim, the Holy One of Israel, etc. Isaiah 8:13 shows us the proper attitude we are to hold towards God: “Yahweh of Armies is who you must respect as holy. He is the one you must fear. He is the one you must dread.” The New Testament tells us to regard Jesus Christ that same way: “but in your hearts, set the Lord Christ apart as holy” (1 Pet. 3:15). Christians are not to use obscenity (Eph. 5:4), but are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). [For more on not using obscenity, see commentary on Eph. 5:4].(top)
“Remember the Sabbath day.” This is the Fourth Commandment, and it is four verses long, Exodus 20:8-11.
It can be quite easy to lose track of which day of the week it is and to accidentally ignore the Sabbath, or to get so pressed with things to do that it just does not seem as important to obey the Sabbath as to get that “important” work done. People face that kind of thing all the time when they ignore some things in order to do “more important” things. In God’s eyes, Israel keeping the Sabbath was one of the things they had to remember and take time to do.
There are people who try to use the word “remember” to assert that the Sabbath had been a regular institution far back into the past, but there is no evidence for that and no reason to take the word “remember” that way. If a mother tells a child, “remember to take your vitamins,” it does not mean he or she has been taking vitamins for a long time. In this case, since the Ten Commandments were given in the third month after leaving Egypt (Exod. 19:1) and the Sabbath was introduced one month after Israel left Egypt (Exod. 16:1), then Israel had only kept something like six Sabbath days. [For more on the Sabbath, see commentary on Exod. 20:10].(top)
“You.” The “you” is singular from the singular verbs. See commentary on Exodus 20:3, “you.”(top)
“the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh.” The word “Sabbath,” shabbat (#07676 שַׁבָּת) almost certainly comes from a Hebrew word for “rest, cease, stop,” shabbaton (#07677 שַׁבָּתוֹן), and both words appear in Exodus 16:23: “Tomorrow is to be a day of rest [shabbaton], a holy Sabbath [shabbat]” (NIV84); “Tomorrow is a time of cessation from work, a holy Sabbath” (NET). Some English versions use the word “sabbath” twice (cp. NASB: “Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath”) but having “sabbath” twice is more confusing than clarifying because although the Hebrew words are related, they are different, and furthermore, the Sabbath as a regular institution and day of rest for Israel had not been established yet.
When God created the world as we know it, He rested on the seventh day, which was a Saturday. In biblical reckoning of time, Sunday is the first day of the week and Saturday is the seventh, which is why the Jewish Sabbath is on Saturday. The origin and inculcation of the seven-day week in ancient cultures has been lost in history, but there is little doubt that it came from God and was passed from Adam and Eve to their descendants, even though some cultures abandoned it. Adam lived more than 900 years and would have passed on the information about creation to his descendants.
Evidence that God established the seven-day week comes from the fact that it does not seem to come from anywhere else and it is humanitarian in its effect—as it was originally given by God it was a blessing to people. The seven-day week is not tied to the planets or planetary motion, or the motion or phases of the moon, or from a solar or sidereal year (a sidereal year is a year based on the motion of the stars). Furthermore, it is the nature and tendency of rulers to overwork the people they rule, and thus the very nature of the Hebrew Sabbath is against the natural inclination of all but the most godly of rulers. There is no good reason to reject what the Bible clearly states: the Sabbath came from God.
Although the word “sabbath” is not used in Genesis chapter 2 (Gen. 2:2 uses shavath, #07673 שָׁבַת, a closely related word), God gives the fact that He “stopped” working and “rested” on the seventh day of creation as the reason for His choosing the seventh day as the day the people of Israel were to cease from working (Gen. 2:1-3; Exod. 20:11). Nevertheless, there is no biblical account of anyone recognizing a weekly day of rest until after the Exodus, when God commanded it for Israel. So even if it was known that God rested on the seventh day of creation, that information did not influence how people behaved in their daily lives. Exodus 16:23 is when God introduced the idea that the seventh day, Saturday, was to be a regular day of rest for His people.
As we examine God’s commanding a regular Saturday Sabbath for Israel, it is helpful to see at least three different important aspects. The Sabbath was not a regular institution for the people of God until God commanded it for Israel; it was specifically given to Israel; and it was given to Israel to help them remember the harsh slavery they were subjected to in Egypt, which did not have any regular rest days, and thus ostensibly so they would not treat anyone as they were treated in Egypt.
The regular Saturday Sabbath was not observed by anyone in the Bible before God gave it to Israel after the Exodus. This should speak very loudly to people who assert it is the will of God for everyone to keep the Sabbath today. Conservative scholars agree that Adam and Eve were created about 4,000 BC, and the Exodus was about 1,450 BC. That means that God did not give any commands concerning a Sabbath or day of rest for the first 2,500 years of human life on earth—more than half of the time of the Old Testament. This shows that people having a regular day of rest was not of great concern for God in contrast to other things about which God did give specific commands. People knew the difference between good and evil at the time of the Fall, and God expected people to do good (Gen. 3:22). God gave commands about sacrifices and offerings as early as Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:3-7). People knew about “clean” and “unclean” animals before Noah’s Flood (Gen. 7:2), and God commanded people not to eat blood right after the Flood (Gen. 9:4). Furthermore, it was right after the Flood that God said that people had the right and responsibility to punish criminals (Gen. 9:6). But in that entire 2,500-year period, God never said a word about keeping a regular day of rest. It was only after the Exodus that He commanded Israel to observe a regular day of rest, and that command was one of the Ten Commandments, part of the Law of Moses.
The fact that the Sabbath was not a regular day of rest until after the Exodus explains what we see in the text in Exodus 16. For one thing, it explains why God introduces the day of rest the way He does. It is quite obvious in the text that God did not expect the people to be already keeping the Sabbath. For example, He did not say, “Hey, tomorrow is the Sabbath, so you need to prepare the manna for two days just like you do your regular food, remember, no cooking on the Sabbath!” Instead, God explains the Sabbath by saying, “Tomorrow is a day of rest,” and then He calls it “a holy Sabbath.” Also, that the people were not used to keeping a Sabbath explains why even though God told them it was a day of rest and that manna would not appear on the ground, “some of the people went out to gather” (Exod. 16:27). God got upset with the people for that, but nothing like what happened some years later, after the Sabbath had been firmly established as one of the Ten Commandments. Years after the Sabbath was established as one of the Ten Commandments, a man who gathered wood on Sabbath day was stoned to death (Num. 15:32-36).
Another thing about the Sabbath is that it was given specifically to Israel. God introduced it to Israel when He first gave manna (Exod. 16:23-30), but at that time there is no indication that the people understood that the Sabbath was to be a perpetual ordinance, nor is there any indication the Israelites knew anything about the extent of it, for example, that it even applied to a stranger who was in Israel (Exod. 20:10).
Although God said He chose the seventh day of the week to be the Sabbath because that was when He rested from His work, He did not explain why He decided that Israel should keep the Sabbath until He explained it in Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 5:15 God said that He gave the Sabbath so that Israel would remember that they were slaves in Egypt and God delivered them, “therefore Yahweh your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” So Deuteronomy 5:15 makes it clear that God did not command people to keep the Sabbath Day before the Exodus. It also makes it clear that the Sabbath was commanded to “you,” Israel, and furthermore it makes it clear that part of the purpose of the Sabbath was so Israel would remember that it was Yahweh who delivered them from slavery so they, and their families, servants, and visitors, could enjoy a day of rest rather than constantly be working.
Once we understand the Sabbath, including when and to whom it was given, we are in a better position to understand the Sabbath and the Christian Church. The regular seventh day Sabbath was part of the Mosaic Law and was given to the Jews. It was not a “universal” regulation given to all people, nor is there any indication it was to extend beyond the time Jesus fulfilled the Law. There is no verse in the writings to the Christian Church (Acts-Jude) that indicates a Christian has an obligation to keep the Sabbath. In fact, the argument from silence on this point is shouting very loudly, because no Christian in Acts or the New Testament epistles is ever said to have kept the Sabbath. On the Sabbath day, Paul and others went into synagogues and places where people were worshipping, but that is because that is when and where the people they wanted to speak to were gathered; there is no statement about Paul or others going to the synagogue in order to keep the regulations of the Sabbath. Furthermore, in the great church council in Acts 15, men of the Pharisees claimed that Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised and “keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5), but even Peter said that was not the case (Acts 15:6-11). The conclusion of the council was that the Gentiles should abstain from idols, sexual immorality, and defiled meat and blood, but not a word was said about them keeping the Sabbath (Acts 15:24-29). This is very important when we realize that as Gentiles in the Roman world they would have partaken of all of those activities; idols, sex, and defiled meat, and also would not have kept the Sabbath. So if there was a need for believers to keep the Sabbath it seems it would have been mentioned, but the fact that it is not mentioned fits with what the New Testament Epistles say about the regulations of the Law and specifically the Sabbath.
In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul wrote to the Church at Colosse and told them not to let anyone judge them about what they ate and drank or with respect to special days or the Sabbath, and he pointed out that those things were a “shadow” of the things to come but the reality was Christ. So the Sabbath was a shadow that pointed to the reality of the “Sabbath-rest” that we all have in Christ, of which the best is yet to come.
Occasionally people who think God still commands believers to keep the Sabbath assert that the word “Sabbath” in Colossians does not refer to the Jewish Sabbath, but it does. The Greek word is sabbaton (#4521 σάββατον), and it is the same word that is used for the Jewish Sabbath in the Septuagint and the New Testament to refer to the Sabbath. In fact, in the New Testament the word sabbaton occurs almost 70 times and it is only used two ways: for the weekly Sabbath or a special Sabbath, and also to mean “a week,” and it is only used to refer to a week about a dozen times, and in the majority of those uses “sabbath” is plural, “sabbaths” (cp. Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Acts 20:7). There is no place in the New Testament where sabbaton is used of some kind of general “rest.” Thus there is no lexical or contextual reason to say that in Colossians 2 the word “Sabbath” does not include referring to the regular weekly Sabbath.
Can a person keep the Sabbath or a special day if they want to? Certainly. Paul wrote, “One person judges one day to be above another day, while another judges every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5).
Despite the fact that Christians do not need to keep the Sabbath Day, the Sabbath contains many important lessons and principles. One is that people do need to rest. God rested, and studies show that it is healthy for people to regularly take some time to rest and disengage from the pressures of life. Another lesson is that it is not good or godly to expect people to work every day without a day of rest. People are not slaves to the “god of production.” Having a regular time to dedicate to God and family is the heart of our Father God, and the Sabbath made sure that happened.(top)
|Exo 20:11||- (top)|
“You are to honor your father and your mother.” This is the fifth of the Ten Commandments, and it is one verse long. The “you” is singular from the singular verb. See commentary on Exodus 20:3, “you.”(top)
“You must not murder.” This is the sixth of the Ten Commandments. The “you” is singular from the singular verb. See commentary on Exodus 20:3, “you.”
“murder.” The Hebrew word translated murder in the REV, but “kill” in the King James Version, ratsach (#07523 רָצַח) and it can mean “kill” or “slay,” either on purpose or accidentally. Ratsach, like many other words, has a wide range of meaning, and thus its meaning in a particular verse must be determined from the both the immediate and remoter contexts. Thankfully, the Bible has a lot to say about murder, manslaughter, the execution of criminals and killing in war, and it is easy to tell by studying all the verses on the subject that the Sixth Commandment means not to take a life unjustly. In this context, ratsach should be translated “murder,” and it is in most modern versions (cp. CJB; HCSB; ESV, NASB; NET; NIV; NKJV; Rotherham; YLT).
Thankfully, most Bible commentators are not confused by the sixth commandment even when it is translated as “You shall not kill.” Maxie Dunnam wrote about the Sixth Commandment, “According to Genesis 9:6, this commandment did not prohibit the death penalty. It is obvious in the Old Testament that this [Sixth Commandment] was not a prohibition against all killing, only unauthorized killing (Mastering the Old Testament: Exodus, Word Publishing, Dallas, TX, 1987, p. 263).
Since killing in criminal execution, in self defense and in war are condoned in Scripture, it is hard to see how “You shall not kill” is an acceptable translation of ratsach in the Sixth Commandment. There is no question that the average reader gets the wrong idea from “you shall not kill,” and instead of correctly concluding that accidental killing and suicide are being included with murder, the modern reader wrongly concludes that self-defense, the execution of criminals and killing in war are forbidden by God.(top)
“You must not commit adultery.” This is the seventh of the Ten Commandments. The “you” is singular from the singular verb. See commentary on Exodus 20:3, “you.”(top)
“You must not steal.” This is the eighth of the Ten Commandments. The “you” is singular from the singular verb. See commentary on Exodus 20:3, “you.”(top)
“You must not give false testimony against your neighbor.” This is the ninth of the Ten Commandments. The “you” is singular from the singular verb. See commentary on Exodus 20:3, “you.”(top)
“You must not covet.” This is the tenth and last of the Ten Commandments. The “you” is singular from the singular verbs. See commentary on Exodus 20:3, “you.”(top)
“shofar.” The ram’s horn trumpet, not the metal trumpet.(top)
“they said to Moses.” The people did not come as a mass to Moses, they were represented by their leaders, as Deuteronomy 5:23 makes clear. Many times in Scripture, “the people” or “Israel” is said to do something but it is the leaders who actually act, representing the people.(top)
|Exo 20:20||- (top)|
“and Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” This is Moses’ fourth time up Mount Sinai. God had spoken the Ten Commandments directly to Israel from the top of Mount Sinai after Moses went down for the third time (Exod. 19:25). God’s loud voice combined with the dark cloud, fire, thunder, shofar blast, etc., frightened the Israelites and they asked that God not speak to them again (Exod. 20:18-19). So Moses went back up to God and got more laws for Israel to live by (Exod. 21-23). Those initial laws were called “The Book of the Covenant” (Exod. 24:7), and they, along with the Ten Commandments, were the laws that Israel agreed to obey when they made the Old Covenant (cp. Exod. 24:3-8).
[For more on Moses’ seven trips up Mount Sinai, see commentary on Exod. 19:3].(top)
|Exo 20:22||- (top)|
|Exo 20:23||- (top)|
|Exo 20:24||- (top)|
|Exo 20:25||- (top)|
|Exo 20:26||- (top)|