OT Encounters: Exodus 20:1-17 – The Ten Words

By Jeff Pulse

The Old Testament lesson for the third Sunday of Lent, March 4, 2018, is written in the second book of the Torah, Exodus. The text is Exodus 20:1-17 and provides us with the first giving of the Ten Words—usually referred to as the Ten Commandments, although the Hebrew does not call them this. While these are very familiar words to us frequently, they are dealt with in ways that fail to take into account the context and the situation.

The Israelite people are encamped at Mt. Sinai, and Moses has gone up on the mountain into the Glory Cloud to speak with God. The people are terrified by the smoke and the rumbling of the mountain, and a fence has even been placed around the mountain lest the people or any of the livestock should wander too close and die as a result. So, when Moses finally reappears, he has the tablets with the Ten Words from God which God spoke to him on the mountain (in our text).

It is important to remember that these Words are given to the people of Israel. In other words, they are given to the faith community, the believers, the people of the covenant. They are not given to the foreigners or the pagan nations. While today we may argue that they are good rules to live by for all people, this was not the original intention nor the original audience. The faith community received these Ten Words as a means by which to understand their relationship with the LORD. If they are to walk with God, and if He is to live in their midst, then these define how that can be a reality. Using Lutheran language, these are third use of the Law—sanctification, holy living. This is what those in the covenant do; it is how they act.

20:2 hotsethiyka—root: yatsa—hophal “to cause to be brought out” Note that God is the acting agent.

20:3 lo yihyeh-leka “you shall not have to you”

20:4 pesel “image; idol” Some faith traditions number their Ten Words differently. Verse 3 is  the first commandment and verse 4 is the second commandment. The Lutheran tradition is to combine these two verse into the first commandment.

         temunah “form; appearance; shape; likeness”

20:5 thishtachweh—root: chaiah—hishtaphel “to bow down (as in worship)” This is the ONLY verb that occurs in the hishtaphel form. Note that the jealousy of God indicates that the covenant is a marriage relationship. Worshiping other gods in cheating on the Bridegroom.

         shileshim “grandchildren” “of the third generation”

         ribeiym “great-grandchildren” “of the fourth generation”

20:7 lashawe—root: shawe “for vanity; in vain”

         Yenaqeh—root: naqah—piel “to leave unpunished: to go unpunished”

20:9-10 hashviyiy “seventh”

               amah “maidservant”

             wegerka—from ger “stranger; sojourner; new-comer (protected citizen)”

20:11 Note that the Sabbath rest is connected to the seventh day of creation when God rested from His work.

20:12 yaarikun—root: arak—hiphil “to make long; cause to be long; to continue long”

20:13 tirtsach—root: ratsach “to murder; to slay; to kill with premeditation”

20:14 tinaph—root: naaph “to commit adultery”

20:15 tignov—root: ganav “to steal”

20:16 ed “witness”

20:17 thachmod—root: chamad—qal “to desire and attempt to obtain; desire; covet”