Restoration Quarterly 14 (1971) 184-204.

       Copyright © 1971 by Restoration Quarterly, cited with permission.




                God's Gracious Love Expressed:

                               Exodus 20:1-17



                                          DAVID R. WORLEY, JR.

                                                   Abilene, Texas



            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

Red Sea, the Israelites entered the wilderness of Shur

(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 Egypt, they came into the


     1 The bibliography gathered by H. H. Rowley, "Moses and the

Decalogue," Men of God (Great Britain: Nelson, 1963), pp. 1-36, is

quite extensive.


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

Egypt, He proceeded to relate the commands which Israel

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)

Israel was the audience, the singular, second person pronoun

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 feels Israel is addressed in the collective

second person; cf. M. Noth, Exodus, trans. J. B. Bowden (Philadelphia:

Westminster Press, 1962), p. 162.

     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 Israel

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 Israel and a unique

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 Egypt. It is very

possible that Israel became familiar with this form during this

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

Israel. In the Hittite documents great attention was given 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 Israel, i.e., in the recitation of the

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


      13 W Beyerlin, Origins and History of the Oldest Sinaitic

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

Decalogue was proclaimed at more or less regular intervals in Israel's

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

Near East. It is true that much of the content and intent is

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

Testament: The Recent State of Inquiry," The Catholic Biblical

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

people of Israel were once slaves in Egypt. Deuteronomy

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

(e.g., Egypt, Sinai, Conquest) were brought together as a

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 (New York: McGraw-Hill Book

Co., 1966), pp. 48-50.

      21 Beyerlin, op. cit., xvi.

192                             Restoration Quarterly


occurred on Sinai.22  For both of these scholars, participation

by all Israel in the Sinai events as recorded in Exodus 19ff. is

"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

appear convincing.

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 Testament, trans. David Green (Nashville:

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 Israel in Dt. 5.

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

be written.

      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 land of Egypt from the house of slaves."

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 Israel;

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 yehaheloheyka 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"; NEB: "against me" or Koehler: "in defiance of

me;" LXX, plen emou. All the interpretations would indicate the same

general meaning for the verse.

     37 Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, edited by E. Kautzsch and A. E.

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): "Remember, Israel, I the

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

"Theology of Memphis" that gods entered into images of wood,

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 Israel and forbidden 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

Britain: Nelson, 1962), p. 228.

     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 taabedem 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 NEB gives "be led to worship

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"; NEB, "(keep) faith"; KJV,

"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 Israel that such

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

in Egypt (5:15).

     52 It is commonly alleged that this commandment cannot be from

Moses because those tending the flocks could not rest even one day.

Hyatt comments that one does not know how Israel defined work.

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.

However, in light of the family situation in Israel the

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


     54 Stamm posits three possible origins: (1) sapattu in Babylon,

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

(E. Jenni); cf. Stamm, op. cit., pp. 90-92. Stalker states that the

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 Israel; R.

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.

     64 The NEB has translated rasah "murder."

     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 Anderson

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 NEB have

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

for 20:16.

      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";

cf. Ibid.

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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