Restoration Quarterly 14 (1971) 184-204.
Copyright © 1971 by Restoration Quarterly, cited with permission.
God's Gracious Love Expressed:
DAVID R. WORLEY, JR.
The past fifty years have witnessed the discovery of a
wealth of material from the ancient Near East which has
illuminated many of the customs of the Old Testament. Of
particular interest to this study is the large amount of
material which has shed light on our understanding of law
and covenant in the Old Testament. The need has arisen to
revise many earlier conclusions. The purpose of this study is
to take another look at the ten commandments. Within this
century alone, a large corpus of material has been written on
the Decalogues in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.1 In view
of the new insights, an attempt will be made to exegete
Exodus 20:1-17. In the process of evaluating the role of the
ten commandments in today's world, the first step must be
to understand the demands of the Decalogue in the original
historical context. This paper is limited to the first step.
The general context in which the events of chapter 20
had their roots must first be reviewed. Having crossed the
(Exodus 15:22). The story of God's people during the
wilderness period was one of discontent, murmuring, strife,
rebellion, and a general lack of faith. Throughout the
difficult journey, however, God continued to care for the
people, providing them with manna and quail (16:1-36) and
deliverance from the Amalekites (17:13). On the third new
moon after the people had escaped
1 The bibliography gathered by H. H. Rowley, "Moses and the
Decalogue," Men of God (Great Britain: Nelson, 1963), pp. 1-36, is
God's Gracious Love Ex. 20: David Worley 185
wilderness of Sinai (19:1). In Sinai, God extended His great
promise to the people. "If you will obey my voice and keep
my covenant you shall be my own possession among all
peoples" (19:5). The people affirmed their decision to follow
the LORD's word. In preparation for the great theophany,
they consecrated themselves and washed their garments
(19:14). The descension of God upon Sinai was to allow the
people to hear God's speech with Moses and to instill in
them a trust in Moses (19:9).
On the morning of the third day, the great cosmic scene
evolved. Thundering, lightning, and a thick cloud surrounding
the mountain provided the backdrop for the presence of
Yahweh. The people were not permitted to ascend or to
touch the border of the mountain. All the camp trembled
(19:16). After Moses received further instructions from the
LORD and returned to the people, God began to speak. After
identifying Himself as the God who delivered them from
was to, follow (20:1-17). Having witnessed the awesome Sinai
scene, the people requested that Moses speak to them, not
God (20:19). Moses again drew near to the thick cloud where
God was (20:22). The LORD gave Moses ordinances to
communicate to the people (20:21-23:33), which he laid
before them, with all the words of the LORD. Again the
people spoke, "We will do [all the words]" (24:3). Moses
wrote all the words and the next morning built an altar to the
LORD. Ratification of the covenant occurred soon (24:8).
The immediate context for chapter 20 is set in 19:16ff.
with the beginning of the theophany. On this day of cosmic
eruption the three blocks of material in chapter 20 find their
setting (Sitz im Leben). The presence of the LORD saturated
Mount Sinai. The people viewing the smoking mountain and
hearing the sound of the trumpet stood at the foot of the
mountain trembling. After Moses returned to the people and
reiterated to them the consequences of approaching too close
to God's majesty, God spoke the words which form the unit
of material to be considered in this study (20:1-17).
The commandments found in 20:1-17 are said to be
186 Restoration Quarterly
spoken by God at Sinai. The audience is not mentioned in
the opening statement (20:1). Throughout the com-
mandments the pronoun "you" is singular. This would,
perhaps, suggest that Moses was the immediate listener.2
However, it appears from other passages that the people
heard God speak. For instance, before the theophany, the
LORD revealed to Moses that the people would hear His
communication with Moses (19:9). Also later the LORD
stated that He had talked with the people from heaven
(20:22). After God had spoken, the people requested that
Moses be the mediator (20:19): the people did not want God
to speak to them, lest they die (20:19).3 If (as it seems)
emphasizes the message addressed to the individuals within
the community and the requirement of individual
Much of the new information concerning the ten
commandments5 has come from an analysis of the form of
the "ten words" and a comparison of the form with others in
the ancient Near East. By simple observation one recognizes
2 Since the pronoun "you" is singular throughout 20:1-17, it
might appear that God was addressing Himself to Moses alone. Of
course Moses would then be expected to relate the message to the
3 It could be argued that the people had not yet heard the voice of
God. By observing the activities of nature around Sinai, they might feel
that if God spoke to them, surely they would die. Though this passage
is somewhat ambiguous, the other passages seem to indicate that the
people indeed heard God's voice.
4 J. P. Hyatt, "Moses and the Ethical Decalogue," Encounter
XXVI (1965), 202. Noth
second person; cf. M. Noth, Exodus, trans. J. B. Bowden (
5 The introductory remark (20:1) does not mention "ten words"
but simply states "these words." Other passages, however, give
precedence for coining the term "ten commandments" or "ten words"
(Ex. 34:28; Dt. 4:13; 10:4). There is no complete agreement on a
God's Gracious Love Ex. 20: David Worley 187
that all of the commandments are in the negative except for
those relating to the Sabbath and the honoring of parents
(20:8,12). Further analysis indicates that the laws of
were of two types. Albrecht Alt' has identified two forms
of law.7 One type of law (casuistic law) is to be found in the
"if" clauses of the Book of Covenant (20:22-23:19) and also
in the Holiness Code (Lev. 17-26).8 This conditional law
consisted of the characteristic formula: If this happens, then
that will be the consequence. This type of law was common
in the ancient Near East as is evident from legal documents
division of the commandments into their separate entities. The RSV
follows Josephus, Philo, the Greek fathers, and the Reformed Church in
dividing 20:2-3 for the first, 20:4-6 for second, 20:7 for the third,
20:8-11 for the fourth, and 20:12-17 for the remaining six. Modern
Jews tend to separate 20:2 for the first, 20:3-6 for the second, and
20:7-17 for the remainder. The Latin fathers, the Roman Catholics, and
the Lutherans see 20:2-6 as the first, 20:7 as the second, 20:8-11 as the
third, 20:12-16 as the fourth through eighth, 20:17a as the ninth and
20:17b as the tenth. Each of these different divisions reflects not only
different emphases, but also an approach toward handling critical
exegetical problems; cf. J. E. Huesman, "Exodus," The Jerome Biblical
Commentary (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1968).
6 A, Alt, Essays in Old Testament History and Religion, trans. R.
A. Wilson (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1968), pp. 103-171.
7 J. J. Stamm with M. E. Andrew, The Ten Commandments in
Recent Research (Illinois: Alec R. Allenson, Inc., 1967), p. 31. Stamm
and Andrews' book is an excellent compendium of the more important
explanations of various portions of the decalogue. It provided a major
source for this study.
8 At this point it may be helpful to identify the legal material
designated by various terms by scholars. Hyatt quotes Pfeiffer's list: (cf.
Hyatt, op. cit., 200.)
1. Covenant Code--Ex. 20:22-23:19
2. Ritual Decalogue--Ex. 34:10-26 and 22:29b-30; 23:12,15-19
3. Twelve (originally ten) Curses--Dt. 27:14-26
4. Ten Commandments--Dt. 5:6-21 and Ex. 20:1-12
5. Deuteronomic Code--Dt. 12-26
6. Holiness Code--Lev. 17-26
7. Priestly Code--Lev., in toto and parts of Ex. and Num.
188 Restoration Quarterly
from Sumeria and the laws in the Code of Hammurabi. On
the other hand, Alt felt that the short command or
prohibition, characteristic of the ten commandments, was
without parallel in ancient oriental law. Alt concluded that
this form of legal material was unique to
expression of her religion.9 In the course of time, an
interesting discovery was made: There were extra-Israelite
parallels to apodictic law. George Mendenhall found parallels
between the Decalogue and vassal treaties of Hittite kings
who reigned in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries
B.C.10 Of course such a date indicates that the treaties were
written around the time of the Exodus. Evidently the Hittite
covenant form circulated in the same area where the Israelites
had wandered, i.e., from Northern Syria to
period. One type of Hittite treaty was the suzerainty treaty,11
in which the suzerain extended his terms to the vassal king.
In a similar manner, God extended the terms of His love to
the benevolence of the king. In fact, the vassal's motive for
obligation was gratitude for what had been done for him by
the suzerain.12 The ten commandments are prefaced by a
reminder to Israel of God's care.
9 Alt sees the connection of apodictic law with Moses and Sinai as
grounded in the cultic practices of
law at the Feast of Tabernacles; cf. Stamm, op. cit., p. 35.
10 G. Mendenhall, "Ancient Oriental and Biblical Law," Biblical
Archaeologist Reader III (New York: Anchor Books, 1970), 3-24.
11 Another Another type of treaty has been discovered, viz., the parity
treaty, in which both partners in the treaty had equal status; cf. G.
Mendenhall, "Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition," Biblical
Archaeologist Reader III (New York: Anchor Books, 1970), 25-53.
12 D. Hillers has written an excellent book on the covenant idea.
One chapter deals with Sinai (and Shechem) and the parallels to the
Hittite treaties; D. Hillers, Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1969), pp. 46-71.
Gods Gracious Love Ex. 20: David Worley 189
Beyerlin has written an interesting study of the parallels,
and he notes particularly those parallel to Exodus 20 which
aid in the text's interpretation.13 The Hittite treaties had
preambles in which the originator of the covenant presented
himself (cf. 20:2). A historical prologue gave the great deeds
of the Lord (cf. 20:2). The dependence on the founder of the
covenant excluded any concurrent dependence (cf. 20:3).
The covenant was not valid unless it existed in written
form.14 Moses, too, wrote the "words of the covenant, the
ten words" (34:28). The Hittite documents had to be kept in
appropriate places (cf. Deuteronomy 31:9-26), and the
documents were to be read regularly to the people.15 These
examples of Hittite treaties provide many parallels with the
legal material at Sinai." The question is how one should
Traditions, trans. S. Rudman (Great Britain: Basil Blackwell, 1965), pp.
14 A covenant tablet for Rimisarma, king of the Halap country.
My father Mursiks made it for him, but the tablet was robbed. I, the
Great king, made a new tablet for him, with my seal I sealed it and gave
it to him. In all future nobody must change the words of this tablet."
Cf. A. S. Kapelrud, "Some Recent Points of View on the Time and
Origin of the Decalogue," Studia Theologica XVIII (1964), 87.
15 Although there is no regulation in the text of Exodus 20
concerning the reading of the words, "there can be no doubt that the
was proclaimed at more or less regular intervals in
cult in some form or other;" cf. Beyerlin, op. cit., p. 59.
16 Beyerlin feels the logical conclusion is that the decalogue was
modeled after the well-established treaty form found in the Hittite
treaties (cf. Ibid., p. 43). M. Andrew has a valuable discussion on the
caution which should be taken in making assertions as to the
dependence or origin of treaties or apodictic laws. He mentions, in
particular, the work of Dennis McCarthy in evaluating the covenant,
treaty idea; cf. Stamm, op. cit., pp. 44-74.
190 Restoration Quarterly
interpret these data.17 For the purpose of this study, these
observations can be made. The genre of legal material
represented by Exodus 20:1-17 is not unique in the ancient
different; however, the basic forms of expression and
terminology used in formulating the covenant has parallels in
the thirteenth century B.C. Therefore, the form of literature
confirms a date of origin which is compatible with the time
period expressed in the Biblical material, i.e., about the
thirteenth century B.C.
Most scholars feel that originally all the commandments
were a brief single clause.18 Also some think that the
commandments on the Sabbath and on reverence toward
parents were originally in prohibitive form. Thus the sixth,
seventh, and eighth commandments (20:13-15) have been
understood as normative. The differences between the
Deuteronomic statement of the ten words and the Exodus
account have been adduced as proof that the original list of
17 D. McCarthy is "wary of using literary forms to argue to
historical dates since literary forms can and do have a complex and
variable history...." In other words, he is hesitant to use similar
literary forms (i.e., Hittite treaties) in dating the Decalogue. In fact,
McCarthy feels that "the Decalogue itself is really something different
from the apodictic stipulations of the treaties and can hardly be
deduced from the treaty form." D. J. McCarthy, "Covenant in the Old
The Recent State of
Quarterly XXVII (1965), 229f.
18 A typical reconstruction is suggested by R. Kittel: (cf. Stamm,
op. cit., pp. 18f.).
I. I, Yahweh, am your God: you shall have no other gods before me.
II. Do not make yourself a divine image.
III. Do not utter the name of your God Yahweh for empty purposes.
IV. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
V. Honor father and mother.
VI. Do not murder.
VII. Do not commit adultery.
VIII. Do not steal.
IX. Do not speak lying witness against your neighbor.
X. Do not covet the house of your neighbor.
God's Gracious Love Ex. 20: David Worley 191
the commandments was briefer. For instance, in Exodus the
reason for "remembering" the Sabbath is that God rested on
the seventh day; in Deuteronomy the reason given is that the
gives a reason for honoring parents not mentioned in Exodus,
viz., "that it may go well with you" (Deuteronomy 5:16).
Different words also occur in these two passages.19 The
variations in the two accounts must be explained somehow.
Scholars feel the accounts represent two traditions of the
Decalogue, expanded as they were transmitted. Thus,
scholars say, originally both were briefer.
Quest for the original Decalogue leads one to look for
the origin of the commandments. Mention has been made of
attempts to parallel the literary form with existing forms in
the ancient Near East. Some of the major theories which have
been proposed for the origin of the commandments are now
to be noted. Many scholars are rather vague as to the origin
of the Decalogue. They speak of the Sinai tradition. Von Rad
thinks the Sinai tradition grew out of the Shechemite shrine's
festival legend and that its basic structure reflected the
pattern of the cult there.20 Noth also connects the revelation
on Sinai with a cult and its creed; he thinks various traditions
result of the tribal confederacy or amphictyony.21 To Noth,
Moses had no historical connection with the event which
19 In Ex. 20:16, the expression ‘ed saqer occurs; in Dt. 5:20, the
same commandment has ‘ed saw. In Ex. 20:17, lo tahimod is found; the
similar commandment in Dt. 5:21 has lo tih'aueh.
20 Von Rad also finds an Exodus-Settlement tradition which was
independent of the Sinai tradition. The former tradition was associated
with the Feast of Weeks at Gilgal. After both traditions had been
severed from this cultic background, the Yahwist incorporated the two
traditions into his work; cf. G. von Rad, The Problem of the Hexateuch
and other essays, trans. E.W.T. Dicken
21 Beyerlin, op. cit., xvi.
192 Restoration Quarterly
occurred on Sinai.22 For both of these scholars, participation
"out of the question." Both Kapelrud and Beyerlin locate the
origin of the Decalogue at Kadesh. The tribes gathered there
and summed up what had happened to them. Evidently Sinai
was not far from Kadesh (Deuteronomy 1:2). It was at
Kadesh that the great historical events received a cultic
expression.23 Beyerlin suggests that the part played by the
cult in developing the Sinaitic tradition should not cause one
to overlook the impulse which proceeded from historical
circumstances. "It was God's activity in history that gave the
impulse to the formation of this tradition and had a decisive
influence on its contents and character."24 He holds that the
Decalogue was recited in the cult for the renewal of the
covenant for many years and that through its long and active
use, explanatory clauses were added to the original, briefer
Decalogue for the people's benefit.25 Noth feels the original
Decalogue was expanded by explanations, reasons, and
recommendations.26 The theories of the traditions as
proposed by these scholars by no means exhaust all the
22 Hyatt, op. cit., 220.
23 Kapelrud, op. cit., 89.
24 Beyerlin, op. cit., p. 169.
25 Ibid., p. 50.
26 Noth, op. cit., p. 161. "When a piece which, like the Decalogue,
represents a catechism-like collection of the fundamental requirements
of God, has been handed down over a long period and has been
repeated, the secondary appearance of expansions and alterations is not
to be wondered at."
27 See Eduard Nielsen, The Ten Commandments in New
Perspective (Illinois: Alec R. Allenson, Inc.; 1968). Nielsen's study
attempts to present a history of the traditions of the Decalogue, after
first dealing with literary and form-critical problems (thus the reason
for his subtitle "A traditio-historical approach"). Another approach is
God's Gracious Love Ex. 20: David Worley 193
Among the benefits from the various explanations given
for the origin and subsequent history of the Decalogue is that
the evidence affirms the importance of Moses in Israelite
history.28 The tradition concerning the writing of the
"words of the LORD" (Exodus 24:3, 13) appears to be
reliable. Thus the origin at Sinai through the mediatorship of
Moses seems probable. That the Decalogue had a "historical
development" after Moses seems to be supported by the
Bible itself. The differences between the accounts of the "ten
words" in Exodus and Deuteronomy lend validity to the
supposition that some additions were made in the trans-
mission, which seemed appropriate to those who handled the
text.29 The efforts to arrive at the original Decalogue by
making the other commandments conform to the structure
of the sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments do not
Concerning the growth of the material and its com-
proposed by Mowinckel, who sees the Sitz im Leben for the Decalogue
as a prescription formula for entry into the cult. He believes it
originated in the cult; cf. Stamm, op. cit., p. 29. Fohrer sees the
customary laws as transmitted independently (orally) and later
absorbed by the source strata of the Pentatuech; cf. G. Fohrer,
Introduction to the Old
trans. David Green (
Abingdon Press, 1968), p. 133.
28 Harrelson states that the Old Testament is implicit about the
importance of Moses: "no more appropriate author could be
suggested;" cf. W. J. Harrelson, "Ten Commandments," Interpreter's
Dictionary of the Bible IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 573.
Rowley is also impressed by the magnitude of Moses' contribution. "To
Moses, the man of God, we are indebted, and to God, through him, for
this high standard which is set before men, and for all that it has
wrought for the enrichment of life by its inspiration and its summons
down all the ages." Rowley, op. cit., 36. Rowley mentions many men
who accept the Mosaic origin of the Decalogue, e.g., T. K. Cheyne, R.
Kittel, S. R. Driver, H. Gressmann, and G. A. Smith. Ibid., p. 2.
29 It is even possible that Moses altered the account when he
related it to
194 Restoration Quarterly
pilation, it appears from the text that the Decalogue
(20:1-17) and the Covenant Code (20:22-23:33) were
recorded soon after they were spoken (24:12 and 24:3).
Later some individual wrote the material of 20:18-21, giving
an account of the incidents which preceded Moses receiving
additional instructions from the LORD (20:22-26).30 The
same author probably also composed the material in
10:16ff., for many descriptions of the cosmos are the same in
both accounts.31 The narrative in 20:18-21 is important,
both because it relates the reaction of God's people to this
momentous event and because it emphasizes the important
place Moses had in the eyes of the people.32
Analysis and Interpretation
Upon an understanding of the general structure and
context of the "ten words" in chapter 20, the remainder of
the study will be concerned with an analysis and inter-
pretation of the individual passages and their relationship to
the whole (i.e., to the pericope and the entire chapter).
Unless a grammatical construction bears particular sig-
nificance to the interpretation of a passage, the notation will
be reserved for the footnote.
The words of God in 20:1-17 form the pericope to be
30 Beyerlin feels 20:1-17 stood between 20:18-21. and 24:lff.
before the insertion of the Book of the Covenant. Therefore the
Decalogue was inserted into its context before the insertion of the
Book of the Covenant which displaced the Decalogue in its role as the
Book of the Covenant; Beyerlin, op. cit., p. 11.
31 Beyerlin attributes this material to E; cf. Ibid. This writer feels
the account was written nearer to the period when the theophany
occurred. If the laws could be written, then surely narratives which
accounted for the origin of the laws and the circumstances could also
32 Beyerlin feels this section was written to answer the question
why the voice of God was no longer heard by the cultic community at
the cultic recapitulation of the Sinai-theophany; cf. Ibid., p. 139.
God's Gracious Love Ex. 20: David Worley 195
interpreted. The tone for the entire section is set by verse 2:
"I am the LORD, your [sing.] God33 who brought you
[sing.]34 out of the
The LORD can call on His people because he has delivered
them;35 the Israelites have changed masters. The Israelite was
to view the commandments through a heart which had been
touched by the loving action of the LORD. The com-
mandments were an expression of
God's concern for
God's grace was manifest in the demands of the law.
One must determine whether the first commandment
intends to advocate monotheism or monolatry. "There shall
not be to you [sing.] other gods before me"36 (20:3). The
verse claims that Yahweh tolerates no rivals to his authority.
If other gods confront you now or in the future, he would
warn, immediately consider them as nothing. None should be
in your presence, for Yahweh is among His people. The force
of lo’ with the imperfect stresses permanent prohibition.37
The second "word" draws on the implications of the
first: "You shall not make for yourself an idol or any form
33The phrase ‘anoki yehah ‘eloheyka can be interpreted in two
ways: "I am Yahweh, your God" or "I, Yahweh, am your God." The
former interpretation is followed by the LXX and Vulgate and is herein
advocated. The phrase "Yahweh, your God" is found in 20:5, 7, 10,
34 The second person singular is used throughout the 17 verses. As
has been suggested, it emphasizes the necessity of individual response.
35 Again the relation is to be viewed in light of the benefits that
were extolled in the vassal treaties of the Hittites, as an incentive to
obedience by the vassal.
36 The phrase ‘al panay is rendered in various ways: RSV: "before
me" or "beside me";
me;" LXX, plen emou. All the interpretations would indicate the same
general meaning for the verse.
37 Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, edited by
Cowley (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1952), paragraph 107 o, p.
317 and paragraph 152 b, pp. 478-479.
196 Restoration Quarterly
which is ... (anywhere)" (20:4). To the ancient Near Eastern
mind, the idol was the place of residence of the god.38 The
deity was not considered the material of the image; the deity
simply resided in the form. The question has arisen whether
the images prohibited were those of foreign gods or of
Yahweh. Perhaps with a view toward the situation, the
Israelites were commanded not to cleave to any forms of
wood, stone, or metal; the images of the Canaanite gods were
abundant in the land. Not only were the Israelites not to
offer religious worship to foreign deities39 "residing in
images," but they, no doubt, were not to construct a form of
Yahweh.40 They were to remember, "I am the LORD, your
God, a jealous God41 visiting upon the iniquities of fathers
to sons upon those of the third and fourth generations to
those who hate me" (20:15). The phraseology is reminiscent
of the opening acclamation (20:2): "
LORD your God was the one who brought you out of
slavery; I am zealous for your welfare. Do not be led to serve
38 As early as the First Dynasty of Egypt it was stated in the
stone....; cf. Hyatt, op. cit., 203.
39 Stamm states that the phrase tistahweh ta’ab dem in 20:5,
means in essence "to offer religious worship" and is only used in
connection with divinities which are foreign to
her, op. cit., p. 85.
40 No figures of Yahweh have been found in excavations, though
many Canaanite figurines in Israelite houses have been found; cf.
D.M.G. Stalker, "Exodus," Peake's Commentary on the Bible (Great
41 Orlinsky feels qana’ entails being zealous (LXX, zelotes,
emotionally involved, impassioned; Harry Orlinsky, The Torah
(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1969), p. 175.
God's Gracious Love Ex. 20: David Worley 197
other gods."42 Yes, I punish those who hate me,43 but view
my stedfast love44 which extends to thousands, to those who
love me and keep my commands45 (20:6).
A name was a precious thing to ancient man; it reflected
his being, his personality. Accordingly, God's name was
representative of His nature, His Holiness.46 "You shall not
take47 the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the
LORD will not leave unpunished the one who takes His name
in vain" (20:7). The use of God's name for no purposeful
intent included at least two activities.48 The Israelite was not
to swear by God's name falsely (Leviticus 19:12). There was,
however, a legitimate, meaningful way of swearing by His
42 BDB thinks ta ‘abedem means to "be led or enticed to serve." F.
Brown, S. R. Driver, and A. A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon
(Great Britain: Oxford, 1959). The
them" as a possibility. Also, Zimmerli thinks the lahem refers back to
"other gods"; cf. Stamm, op. cit., p. 85.
43 Possibly such a judgment is placed on the sons because they too
hate the LORD (20:5).
44 Hesed is hard to express in English: RSV, "stedfast love"; ASV,
"loving kindness"; BDB, "kindness";
"mercy"; (LXX, Eleos).
45 It appears that a parallelism is indicated; those who love me are
those who keep my commands (Dt. 6:5ff. ).
46 Stalker, loc. cit.
47 Andrew sees nasa in the sense of lifting up one's voice. He
further states that sawi' "is used in many sections of the Old Testament
for what is false (just made up) [Dt. 5:20], empty (having no point or
purpose, hopeless) [Isa. 1:13], and for what even has a light-minded
but nevertheless mischievous wantonness in it [Ex. 23:11. " M. Andrew,
"Using God," Expository Times LXXIV (1963), 305.
48 No doubt, another way of using God's name for no meaningful
reason was in cursing God (Lev. 24:13ff. ).
198 Restoration Quarterly
name.49 Another way of dishonoring God's name was using
it in magic formulas. The names of divinities were prominent
in incantations in the ancient Near East. The use of the name
of a deity was important in affecting curses or bringing
misfortune upon a person. The sorcerer who invoked a
deity's name was actually attempting to gain control of a
deity and his power. Yahweh made it clear to
pronouncement of His name was prohibited and was pun-
ishable. Yahweh's name was to be protected from unlawful
use in oath, curse, or sorcery. Control could not be gained
over Yahweh either by making an image or invoking His
The Israelite was to "remember the day of the Sabbath
to observe it as holy" (20:8) for the LORD "rested on the
seventh day (and) . . . blessed the day of Sabbath and
observed it as holy" (20:11).51 Man was asked by God to
share in the observance of the Sabbath. Not only was the
man not to work,52 but also those under his care were to
cease from labor (20:10).53 The origin of the Sabbath
49 Jeremiah speaks of swearing by the phrase "as the LORD lives"
as being expressive of God's people (Jer. 12:16).
50 Stamm, op. cit., p. 89.
51 Deuteronomy has the motivation of remembrance of the slavery
52 It is commonly alleged that this commandment cannot be from
Moses because those tending the flocks could not rest even one day.
comments that one does not know how
Hyatt, op. cit., 204.
53 Both the LXX and Dt. add two animals to the list in Exodus
20:10 (ox and ass).
Gods Gracious Love Ex. 20: David Worley 199
outside the institution of Yahweh is obscures.54
The next commandment, like the Sabbath statement, is
positive, rather than negative in form:55 "Honor56 your
father and mother in order that your days will continue long
upon the land57 which the LORD your God gives you"
(20:12). It appears that this is the only commandment which
is intended for children, rather than for the paterfamilias.
in light of the family situation in
relationship between adults and their aged parents lies within
the scope of the commandment also. The normal family unit
was the clan which dwelt together on inherited property.58
Aged parents lived with their adult children. In those years
when the parents would be unable to care for their own
needs, it was the adult child's responsibility to provide for
their welfare.59 That the commandment was directed also to
posits three possible origins: (1) sapattu in
which was the 15th day of the month, (2) Kenites, a tribe of smiths,
had a Sabbath day of rest, which Moses appropriated (Koehler, Budde,
Rowley), and (3) the market day which developed into a festival day
Babylonian sapattu was quite different from Jewish Sabbath (e.g., there
is nothing about ceasing work in connection with it); Stalker, loc. cit.
55 Many scholars feel that the commandment was originally
negative (e.g., "You shall not curse your father or mother."). Nielsen
suggests that the affirmative form was a transformation which occurred
under the influence of the Wisdom literature; cf. Nielsen, op. cit., p.
56 Kabed was the opposite of despise (Dt. 21:18-21). In Num.
22:17, to do a person honor is to obey a person. In Mal. 1:6, honor is
associated with fear. Upon the death of Nahash, David sent comforters
to Hanun. Such an action by David was considered as a means of
honoring Nahash (II Sam. 10:3ff.).
57 Both the LXX and Dt. add "and that it may go well with you."
58 Stamm, op. cit., p. 95.
59 G. Beer states, "The aged parents, those over 60 years, whose
capacity for work and whose valuation has diminished are not to be
treated harshly by the Israelite; he is not to begrudge them the bread of
charity, or force them to leave the house or take the way of voluntary
death, or even to kill them himself." Ibid.
200 Restoration Quarterly
children is seen in Deuteronomy 21:18-21.60 The book of
Proverbs contains much material on the child-parent relation-
ship (e.g., 19:26; 20:20). The fifth commandment concludes
with the promise that one's life upon the land will be
lengthy. This promise should be seen in view of Yahweh's
promise concerning the gift of the land.61 The com-
mandment is indicative of the fact that a woman as mother
was equal to the man as father. Proverbs insists on the respect
due to one's mother (e.g., 23:22; 30:17). Though a woman's
position was often limited, her role as mother and wife was
an honored one.62
An understanding of the sixth commandment, "You
shall not kill," centers on the meaning of rasah. Three words
are used in the Old Testament to designate "killing:" hemit
(201 times), harag (165 times),63 and rasah (46 times). Some
would confine the meaning of rasah in Exodus 20:13 to
"murder”64 (i.e., premeditated killing). However, other
passages indicate that rasah is used for accidental (i.e.,
unintentional) killing as well as for deliberate killing.65
60 A stubborn and rebellious son was to be taken by his parents to
the elders of the city. All the men of the city would then stone him to
61 As Nielsen states, "The basic idea is, of course, not that
obedience to parents leads automatically to the attainment of a long
life, but that those who show respect to and care for their parents are
rewarded by Yahweh with length of life on the plot of land which he
has bestowed upon them," Nielsen, op. cit., p. 103.
62 See de Vaux "s comments on the position of women in
de Vaux, Ancient Israel I (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1965),
63 Hemit and harag are "used for killing one's personal enemy, for
murdering him, for killing a political enemy in battle, for killing one
who was punishable according to the law, and for death as a judgement
of God." Stamm, op. cit., p. 99.
65 Cf. Dt. 4:41-43; 19:1-13; Josh. 20-21.
God's Gracious Love Ex. 20: David Worley 201
Nielson is justified in saying that "it is no part of the purpose
of this commandment to rule out the death penalty or the
waging of war."66 Though rasah is used in one instance of
capital punishment (Numbers 35:30), it is clear that such
punishment when commanded by God is not prohibited by
the sixth "word." Also the wars sanctioned by Yahweh in the
Old Testament and the accompanying killing of enemies in
battle (cf. Deuteronomy 20:1ff) are outside the meaning of
20:13. In fact, rasah is never used for the killing of the
enemy in battle.67 That premeditated murder is prohibited is
unquestionable; that accidental killing is prohibited also may
be surprising. However, in a society where capital punishment
and wars were permitted and commanded, the sanctity of
human life had to be perserved. It was God's prerogative, and
His alone, to give and take life.
The seventh commandment, "You shall not commit
adultery," is directed toward unfaithfulness in the marriage
relationship. In fact, Rylaarsdam states that naap is used
exclusively in the Old Testament concerning marital in-
fidelity.68 Leviticus 20:10 and Jeremiah 29:23 define naap
as a man with the wife of his neighbor.69 Adultery
constitutes a denial of the unity of the relationship between
66 Nielsen, op. cit., p. 108.
67 Cf. Stamm, loc. cit.
68 J. C. Rylaarsdam, "The Book of Exodus," The Interpreter's
Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1952), 986.
69 Hauck comments, "Adultery is the violation of the marriage of
another, Gn. 39:10ff. Hence a man is not under obligation to avoid all
non-marital intercourse. Unconditional fidelity is demanded only of the
woman, who in marriage becomes the possession of her husband." D. F.
Hauck, "Moicheuo" Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
(Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1967), p. 730. De Vaux
states, "The husband is exhorted to be faithful to his wife in Pr.
5:15-19, but his infidelity is punished only if he violates the rights of
another man by taking a married woman as his accomplice." De Vaux,
op. cit., p. 37.
202 Restoration Quarterly
man and woman, a unity offered by Yahweh.70
The eighth “word” prohibits stealing.71 Harrelson thinks
the Old Testament conceives of property as a kind of
extension of the "self" of its owner (Joshua 7:24).72 He
concludes that acts of theft are violations of the person. Alt
asserts that the commandment did not mean theft in general,
but refers rather to the kidnapping of the free Israelite man.
The kidnapping of dependent persons or those not free was
covered by 20:17. Because Exodus 21:16 was from an
apodictic series, Alt concluded that it would be placed into
the Decalogue (i.e., defining 20:15).73 However, as
has stated, simply because one meaning can be found in one
apodictic series does not mean that another apodictic series
has the same meaning.74 It seems best to preserve the general
meaning of "steal."
The next commandment does not deal primarily with
gossip, but with the lying witness who jeopardizes the welfare
of another. "You shall not testify (as) a witness of
false hood75 against your neighbor (20:16). The setting for
this commandment is in the court.76 "He who showed
himself to be truthful here would not have wanted to give
way to falsehood elsewhere.”77
70 Harrelson, loc. cit.
71 Commandments six through eight are variously arranged: LXX:
14,15,13; Philo, Luke 18:20, Romans 13:9: 14, 13, 15 (Matt. 19:18
and Mark 10:19 follow the MT ).
72 Harrelson, loc. cit.
73 Cf. Stamm, op. cit., p. 104
74 Ibid., p. 106.
75 BDB (p. 729) reads ‘ed as a person; RSV and
translated it as objective evidence.
76 Anah has a special meaning for the reciprocal answering of the
parties in law.
77 Stamm, op. cit., p. 109.
God's Gracious Love Ex. 20: David Worley 203
The last "word" of the ten centers around the meaning
of hamad. "You shall not desire the house of your neighbor;
you shall not desire the wife of your neighbor78 or his slave
or his maidservant or his herd of cattle or his ass or anything
which is to your neighbor." The question has arisen as to
whether the Decalogue really prohibited a covetous impulse
of the heart. Herrmann showed that hamad was repeatedly
followed in the Old Testament by verbs meaning "to take" or
"to rob" (Deuteronomy 7:25; Joshua 7:21). He concluded
that the Hebrew understood the verb to mean an emotion
which led to corresponding actions.79 Herrmann's attempts
to validate his point have not been accepted by all
scholars.80 Hyatt takes a different view. A person in a place
of authority or serving as a judge should not be covetous and
thus allow himself to be bribed. Since the courts of justice
were administered by laymen, bribery was a common
temptation. Hyatt feels an injunction against it was
necessary.81 Concerning whether covetousness would have
been forbidden in Moses' time, Hyatt cites an early document
which forbids covetousness.82 This writer favors the view
that the commandment is directed toward the impulse of the
Of necessity, this exegesis has limited itself to Old
78 Both the LXX and Dt. reverse house and wife.
79 He used Ex. 34:24, where hamad is not followed by a verb to
show that desire was closely related to action.
80 H. J. Stoebe is somewhat doubtful as to the meaning of hamad;
cf. Stamm, loc. cit.
81 Hyatt, op. cit., 205. He feels this would follow the court motif
82 “The Instruction of the Vizier Ptahhotep" relates, "Do not be
covetous against thy (own) kindred .... It is (only) a little of that for
which one is covetous that turns a calm man into a contentious man";
204 Restoration Quarterly
Testament material. An attempt has been made to express
the meaning of the Decalogue in its original historical
context. The task remains of evaluating later references and
interpretations of the "ten words" found in the New
Testament and in Rabbinic literature in light of the
Decalogue's original meaning. No doubt, reinterpretations
were made in changing circumstances. Perhaps this study has
acquainted the reader with a new perspective in which to
view the commandments. The words were given in a
less-than-passive setting; though the cosmic eruptions invoked
fear in the people, they were to remember that the God of
the Exodus was in control. The commandments He gave
them were expressive of His gracious love and, in fact, were
designed for their welfare.
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