Contract with God
- 1 Moses called the Israelites together. He told them:
Israel, listen to the laws and rules I’m giving you now. Study them. Obey them.
- 2 At Mount Sinai,1 we entered into a contract with the LORD. It’s a formal agreement.
- 3 He made this agreement with us, not with our ancestors. It’s a contract with those of us who are alive today.
- 4 The LORD himself came to that mountain where you were camped. He came to talk directly to you, with no one in between talking for him.
- 5 But you were too afraid to go up to the mountain because of the fire up there. So, I became the intermediary. I delivered God’s messages to you. This was his message to you, which you heard for yourself:2
- 6 I am the LORD your God. I led you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.
- 7 You can’t have any gods but me.3
- 8 You can’t create idols in any form, whether it’s an image of something from the sky, earth, or water.
- 9 You can’t worship idols or bow to them. I’m your God. I’m the LORD, and I’m a passionate God who lets the consequences of a person’s sin affect several generations.
- 10 But I’ll express my love for a thousand generations to those who honor my laws.
- 11 You can’t trash the name of the LORD,4 your God. The LORD won’t give you a free pass to demean his name.
- 12 Reserve the Sabbath5 day for the LORD.6
- 13 You have six days to work.
- 14 But the seventh day belongs to the LORD, your God. This is a day off for everyone: you, your children, your workers, your guests, and your livestock. No one should work. That includes your slaves, men, and women.
- 15 Remember, you were slaves in Egypt until the LORD your God freed you. He stretched out his powerful arm, picked you up, and carried you out of there. So, each one of you should observe the Sabbath day of rest.7
- 16 Treat your parents with respect so you can live a good long time in the land the LORD your God is giving you.8
- 17 No killing9 people.
- 18 No adultery.
- 19 No stealing.
- 20 No lying about others.
- 21 Don’t crave what belongs to someone else. Not your neighbor’s house, wife, worker, cow, donkey, or anything else.
Afraid of getting burned
- 22 That’s what the LORD said to you. You heard his loud voice. He spoke to you from inside the blazing fire and the dense smoke on the mountain.
- 23 When you heard his voice from inside that dark smoke and raging fire, you quickly sent your tribal leaders and elders to talk to me.
- 24 They said, “Look, we get it. We can see how powerful the LORD our God is. We heard his voice from inside that fire on the mountain. And we can see that it’s possible for people to talk with God and live to tell the story.
- 25 So, why should we die now in this thundering fire on the mountain, as we listen to God?
- 26 My goodness, who in all this world has ever experienced what just happened to us? We heard the voice of the living God! Talking from inside a fire! And we’re still alive!
- 27 We want you to do the listening for us now. You go to the mountain for us. Listen to everything God says. Then come back and tell us what God wants us to do. We’ll do it.”
Moses agrees to act as go-between
- 28 Well, my people, the LORD heard you. He told me, “I heard what the people said to you. They did well.
- 29 If only they could hold onto the respect they have for me, along with their sincere desire to follow my laws. Life would go so much better for them and their children.
- 30 Give them this message: ‘Go back to your tents.’
- 31 But I want you to stay here with me so I can talk to you. I’m going to give you all the laws, with the requirements and the instructions.”
Don’t mess with God
- 32 That’s from the LORD. So be careful. Do exactly what he says. Don’t try to see what you can get away with. Live as law-abiding people.
- 33 So, follow the path God tells you to take. If you do, you’ll live longer and better lives in the land God is giving you.
Literally, Horeb. Horeb is a Hebrew word that can mean “dry,” “desolate,” or “desert.” But here, it’s a name. Most Bible scholars say it’s an alternate name for Mount Sinai—much like “Zion” is another name for “Jerusalem.”
Verse 22 confirms that this wasn’t the message Moses delivered. It was the message the people heard God saying in “his loud voice.”
The Ten Commandments are unique because they are said to come directly from God, with the people listening to God presenting them in a dramatic speech. There are plenty of ancient laws from what is now the Middle East. Some written by kings. Some from common practice. None from a talking god. Also interesting, the first half the laws focus on the people’s attitude and behavior toward God (verses 6-16). The other half (verses 17-21) focuses on human relationships. People can’t focus on one set of the laws and ignore the other. Honoring God involves treating each other fairly, and with respect.
“LORD,” usually printed in all capital letters, is a name of God that appears around 7,000 times in the Christian Bible, which makes it the most common way of referring to God. The lower-case “Lord” is a translation of the Hebrew word Adonai. It refers to God as our master, our life coach, or the boss. He’s in charge of us, and we try to obey him. “LORD” is the spelling most Bibles use when the writer refers to the name of God. Moses asked God what his name was, and God said Moses should tell the Israelite ancestors of the Jews that his name is “I AM” (3:14). In the original Hebrew language, the name is spelled with only consonants—no vowels. It’s an ancient shorthand, to save hides used to make scrolls. The name is YHWH. Without knowing which vowels, most scholars have settled on YAHWEH, pronounced YAH-way. For those freaky enough to wonder if it’s possible that God might have the name of YAHWHO, no. Hebrew linguist Dr. Joseph Coleson, Old Testament professor emeritus at Nazarene Theological Seminary, said, “No Semitic language ever would allow all three root letters [HWH] to occur in succession together, in any form of any root, without vowels to break them up.” God’s name is so sacred to many Jews that they refuse to speak it. Instead, they’ll use names that describe the character of God, such as Adonai, which means “my Lord.” They won’t even write the name. In English, they’ll spell the name G-d.
Jews observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday night through sundown Saturday. Most Christians worship on Sunday, the day of the week Jesus rose from the dead.
More literally, treat the Sabbath as “holy.” People or objects such as worship center utensils are considered “holy” when they are devoted to God and reserved for his use or purpose. Christian writers such as Paul said the death and resurrection of Jesus, “marks the end of Jewish Law. Rules the Jews observed are now obsolete” (Ephesians 2:15). See also Hebrews 8:7-13, which ends with this statement about a new agreement God made with humanity, through the ministry of Jesus: “It replaced the old agreement, which became obsolete and is already on the verge of disappearing.” The writers don’t argue that the most basic laws are obsolete, such as the Ten Commandments. Instead, they’re talking about laws that set Jews apart from others, such as laws about circumcision and kosher food. Some scholars argue that tithing is part of that group of obsolete laws. Christians didn’t start hearing sermons about tithing until the 1800s, when it started as a fundraising experiment. Under the new agreement, the New Testament, there’s no difference between Jews and non-Jews: “We’re not Jews or non-Jews. We’re not slaves or free folk. We’re not men or women. We’re one people, united in Jesus, the Messiah” (Galatians 3:28).
This is a different rationale for observing the Sabbath than we read in Exodus 20:11. There, the rationale is about God resting after working six days to create everything that exists. He rested on the seventh day.
This might make more sense after reading Exodus 21:17. It was a capital offense to disrespect parents.
The original Hebrew word, rasah, can also mean: murder, execute, or commit unintentional manslaughter.