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The Decalogue

20 [a] God spoke all these words:[b]

“I,[c] the Lord, am your God,[d] who brought you[e] from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.[f]

“You shall have no[g] other gods before me.[h]

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Footnotes

  1. Exodus 20:1 sn This chapter is the heart of the Law of Israel, and as such is well known throughout the world. There is so much literature on it that it is almost impossible to say anything briefly and do justice to the subject. But the exposition of the book must point out that this is the charter of the new nation of Israel. These ten commands (words) form the preamble; they will be followed by the decisions (judgments). And then in chap. 24 the covenant will be inaugurated. So when Israel entered into covenant with God, they entered into a theocracy by expressing their willingness to submit to his authority. The Law was the binding constitution for the nation of Israel under Yahweh their God. It was specifically given to them at a certain time and in a certain place. The Law legislated how Israel was to live in order to be blessed by God and used by him as a kingdom of priests. In the process of legislating their conduct and their ritual for worship, the Law revealed God. It revealed the holiness of Yahweh as the standard for all worship and service, and in revealing that it revealed or uncovered sin. But what the Law condemned, the Law (Leviticus) also made provision for in the laws of the sacrifice and the feasts intended for atonement. The NT teaches that the Law was good, and perfect, and holy. But it also teaches that Christ was the end (goal) of the Law, that it ultimately led to him. It was a pedagogue, Paul said, to bring people to Christ. And when the fulfillment of the promise came in him, believers were not to go back under the Law. What this means for Christians is that what the Law of Israel revealed about God and his will is timeless and still authoritative over faith and conduct, but what the Law regulated for Israel in their existence as the people of God has been done away with in Christ. The Ten Commandments reveal the essence of the Law; the ten for the most part are reiterated in the NT because they reflect the holy and righteous nature of God. The NT often raises them to a higher standard, to guard the spirit of the Law as well as the letter.
  2. Exodus 20:1 sn The Bible makes it clear that the Law was the revelation of God at Mount Sinai. And yet study has shown that the law code’s form follows the literary pattern of covenant codes in the Late Bronze Age, notably the Hittite codes. The point of such codes is that all the covenant stipulations are appropriate because of the wonderful things that the sovereign has done for the people. God, in using a well-known literary form, was both drawing on the people’s knowledge of such to impress their duties on them, as well as putting new wine into old wineskins. The whole nature of God’s code was on a much higher level. For this general structure, see M. G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King. For the Ten Commandments specifically, see J. J. Stamm and M. E. Andrew, The Ten Commandments in Recent Research (SBT). See also some of the general articles: M. Barrett, “God’s Moral Standard: An Examination of the Decalogue,” BV 12 (1978): 34-40; C. J. H. Wright, “The Israelite Household and the Decalogue: The Social Background and Significance of Some Commandments,” TynBul 30 (1979): 101-24; J. D. Levenson, “The Theologies of Commandment in Biblical Israel,” HTR 73 (1980): 17-33; M. B. Cohen and D. B. Friedman, “The Dual Accentuation of the Ten Commandments,” Masoretic Studies 1 (1974): 7-190; D. Skinner, “Some Major Themes of Exodus,” Mid-America Theological Journal 1 (1977): 31-42; M. Tate, “The Legal Traditions of the Book of Exodus,” RevExp 74 (1977): 483-509; E. C. Smith, “The Ten Commandments in Today’s Permissive Society: A Principleist Approach,” SwJT 20 (1977): 42-58; and D. W. Buck, “Exodus 20:1-17, ” Lutheran Theological Journal 16 (1982): 65-75.
  3. Exodus 20:2 sn The revelation of Yahweh here begins with the personal pronoun. “I”—a person, a living personality, not an object or a mere thought. This enabled him to address “you”—Israel, and all his people, making the binding stipulations for them to conform to his will (B. Jacob, Exodus, 544).
  4. Exodus 20:2 tn Most English translations have “I am Yahweh your God.” But the preceding chapters have again and again demonstrated how he made himself known to them. Now, the emphasis is on “I am your God”—and what that would mean in their lives.
  5. Exodus 20:2 tn The suffix on the verb is second masculine singular. It is this person that will be used throughout the commandments for the whole nation. God addresses them all as his people, but he addresses them individually for their obedience. The masculine form is not, thereby, intended to exclude women.
  6. Exodus 20:2 tn Heb “the house of slaves” meaning “the land of slavery.”sn By this announcement Yahweh declared what he had done for Israel by freeing them from slavery. Now they are free to serve him. He has a claim on them for gratitude and obedience. But this will not be a covenant of cruel slavery and oppression; it is a covenant of love, as God is saying “I am yours, and you are mine.” This was the sovereign Lord of creation and of history speaking, declaring that he was their savior.
  7. Exodus 20:3 tn The possession is expressed here by the use of the preposition ל (lamed) and the verb “to be”: לֹא־יִהְיֶה לְךָ (loʾ yihyeh lekha, “there will not be to you”). The negative with the imperfect expresses the emphatic prohibition; it is best reflected with “you will not” and has the strongest expectation of obedience (see GKC 317 §107.o). As an additional way of looking at this line, U. Cassuto suggests that the verb is in the singular in order to say that they could not have even one other god, and the word “gods” is plural to include any gods (Exodus, 241).
  8. Exodus 20:3 tn The expression עַל־פָּנָי (ʿal panay) has several possible interpretations. S. R. Driver suggests “in front of me,” meaning obliging me to behold them, and also giving a prominence above me (Exodus, 193-94). W. F. Albright rendered it “You shall not prefer other gods to me” (From the Stone Age to Christianity, 297, n. 29). B. Jacob (Exodus, 546) illustrates it with marriage: the wife could belong to only one man while every other man was “another man.” They continued to exist but were not available to her. The point is clear from the Law, regardless of the specific way the prepositional phrase is rendered. God demands absolute allegiance, to the exclusion of all other deities. The preposition may imply some antagonism, for false gods would be opposed to Yahweh. U. Cassuto adds that God was in effect saying that anytime Israel turned to a false god they had to know that the Lord was there—it is always in his presence, or before him (Exodus, 241).
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