One God and no more
- 1 This is what God said to the people of Israel.1
- 2 “I am the LORD, your God. I led you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.
- 3 You can’t have any gods but me.
- 4 You can’t create idols in any form, whether it’s an image of something from the sky, earth, or water.
- 5 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.
- 6 But I’ll express my love for a thousand generations to those who honor my laws.
- 7 You can’t trash the name of the LORD, your God. The LORD won’t give you a free pass to demean his name.
- 8 Reserve the Sabbath2 day for the LORD.3
- 9 You have six days to work.
- 10 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.
- 11 The LORD worked for six days creating the sky, the earth, and the sea, along with everything in them. On the seventh day, he rested. That’s why the LORD honors the Sabbath and reserves it as a sacred day.
- 12 Treat your parents with respect so you can live a good long time in the land the LORD your God is giving you.4
- 13 No killing5 people.
- 14 No adultery.
- 15 No stealing.
- 16 No lying about others.
- 17 Don’t crave what belongs to someone else. Not your neighbor’s house, wife, worker, cow, donkey, or anything else.”
Smoke on the mountain
- 18 At the sight and sounds of lightning, thunder, and a blaring ram’s horn, the Israelites trembled in terror as they stood a distance from the smoking mountain.
- 19 They told Moses, “Please, we don’t want God to talk to us anymore. We’re afraid we’ll die. You tell us what he says and we’ll listen to you.”
- 20 But Moses answered, “Come on now, don’t be afraid. God is doing this to teach you to take him seriously and to respect him so you won’t sin.”
- 21 Moses walked toward the dense cloud where God was. The people of Israel kept their distance.6
Make altars of natural stone
- 22 The LORD told Moses:
I want you to give this message to the people of Israel:
With your own eyes, you watched me talk to you from the sky.
- 23 Don’t make gods out of silver or gold.
- 24 When you sacrifice your sheep or cattle in a burnt offering7 or a peace offering,8 do it on an altar made from objects you find on the ground. Wherever you honor me like this, I’ll come to you and bless you with kindness.
- 25 If you make an altar out of stones, don’t chisel the stones. That would desecrate them. The stones should be natural, not handmade.
- 26 Don’t walk up the steps of an altar. If you do, people can look up and see what you look like under your clothes.
The Hebrew text doesn’t actually say who God was talking to: Moses or the crowd. Most scholars seem to teach that God was talking to the crowd he had ordered to gather at the base of Mount Sinai to meet with him. Exodus 20:22 seems to confirm this. God’s speech to them ends as it began: with the people watching a frightening event with thunder and lightning and the blare of a ram’s horn (Exodus 19:16-19; 20:18). Some scholars say God’s speech in Exodus 20 makes most sense if we jump from 19:19 to 20:1. That transition, they say, makes it easier to follow. What comes between is a repetition of instructions God had given earlier and that had been carried out, repeated here for emphasis.
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. Under the new agreement, the New Testament, there’s no difference: “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 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.
This is the last time God ever speaks directly to the people in the Old Testament. From here on he speaks only through prophets.
This was the most common animal sacrifice. Worshipers burned the entire animal. See Leviticus 1.
A peace offering, described in Leviticus 3, is one of several prescribed offerings in Jewish tradition. When Jewish people wanted to give thanks to God for something, such as good health or safety, they would sacrifice a sheep, goat, cow, or bull. They would burn part of the animal, including the kidneys and fat covering the intestines. They would eat the rest in celebration, often with family and friends. It takes a fair number of hungry people to eat a cow. But people were eager to eat meat because it was rare in Bible times for common folks to eat meat, many Bible scholars say.