Exodus 20: The 12 Commandments.

Exodus is like the “Thriller” of Bible books. It is a parade of hit after hit after hit. Let’s say that the burning bush was “Billie Jean,”  and the crossing of the red sea was “Beat It.”

Today? “Thriller.” Oh baby!

The 12 Commandments?

Ten Commandmentsphoto © 2005 Mick Wright | more info (via: Wylio)

I am not quite sure how we arrived at there being 10 commandments. The text I use to study has no paragraph, chapter, or verse breaks – only sentences. I think that is how the original Hebrew text is written.

That being the case, I counted 11 times where God said, “you shall not” and one time where there was a clear affirmative command (honoring your parents).

Here is the list of the commandments:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol
  3. You shall not bow down to them or worship them
  4. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God
  5. You shall not do any work (on the seventh day)
  6. Honor your father and mother
  7. You shall not murder
  8. You shall not commit adultery
  9. You shall not steal
  10. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
  11. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house
  12. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife

Twelve. Now, some of them are definitely connected to others, but there are definitely 12. Yeah, I’m pretty sure your brain just exploded.

Don’t Trust Movies!

A popular image of the “Ten Commandments” is Moses up on the mountain as God chisels them out of rock with lightning or something awesome like that.

In Exodus 20, that is NOT how it happens.

All the people are gathered together and God begins to speak out of the cloud. They all hear it. Everyone receives this message. And there are no tablets.

That is important.

These commands were meant to be given to the entire Israelite community. No one has secret information or a one-up on anyone else. Not even Moses. This is for everyone. No one can make an excuse that they didn’t hear.

God totally empowers his people. All of them. At the same time. Maybe this is what a kingdom of priests looks like.

But . . .

Almost immediately they choose out of it.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.’

God has drawn near to his people. They choose to back away.

That didn’t take long.

Granted, he is appearing in a dark and scary thundercloud with trumpets and loud noises and all – but he’s not trying to hurt them. Moses even tells them to not be afraid but it doesn’t work.

They treat God like he was some nice guy taking them out on a date and then suddenly turned into a werewolf-cat thing and then danced with a bunch of zombies.



20 responses

  1. In my NIV Bible, the Commandments are broken up into 10 groups. You’re right, some of them are definitely connected with each other. But interesting thought about the Israelites choosing to back away from God. I never thought of it that way. Great post!

  2. They are probably referred to as the ten commandments because in Exodus 34 (after the golden calf incident, and Moses breaking the first two stone tablets) God creates a new (put believed to be the same) covenant with the people, it reads “Moses was there with the Lord 40 days and 40 night; he did not eat bread or drink water. He wrote the Ten Commandments, the words of the covenant, on the tablets.” (Ex. 34:28)

    The weird thing is that he directly quotes God laying down some new rules and doesn’t specifically state all the old commandments again, although I feel like it is implied that the new covenant honors and absorbs the rules of the first one. Although wouldn’t it be wacky if the ten commandments were instead:
    -Don’t bow down to another god.
    -Do not make a treaty with the inhabitants of the land
    -Do not make cast images of gods
    -Observe the feast of unleavened bread.
    -The firstborn male from every womb belongs to God.
    -Labor six days and rest on the seventh
    -Observe the festival of weeks
    -Do not present the blood of God’s sacrifice with anything leavened
    -Bring the best first fruits
    -You must not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk
    (all these from Ex 34:16-27)

    Anyways, just some random thoughts on this whole Ten Commandments topic!

  3. Dude! This was epic!

    They really did that whole God shunning thing, didn’t they?

    (Can’t wait ’til you get to the garden tomb–I’m hoping for Mumford & Sons’s “Roll Away Your Stone”). 🙂

  4. Let me start out by saying, I love your interpretations. I look forward to reading what you’ve found in the daily reading. And I’m curious as to what translation you’re using. My Bible (NIV Bible in 90 Days Bible) separates out each commandment and some of the ones that you listed as separate commandments are just part of another one. I’m just curious.

    • well, let me start by saying that you are my 300th comment ever! Hooray! I’m so glad you are enjoying the blog.

      I am using the NRSV. I print it all out on a sheet of paper and there are no verses or section breaks or chapter markers. Each of those things was added later to help find and order things. So I am just reading plain sentences. When I look at it, there is no difference in the way any of the commands look. So I assume that people organized them into 10 commandments based on their topic. So fay, the text hasn’t said that there are ten.

      And, I could be totally wrong about all of that.

  5. So excited to be number 300! And you know, I never thought of it that way. I am already into 1 Kings (reading in 90 days…wow, that’s a challenge) and come to think of it, I don’t remember it saying anything about how many commandments there are. I remember it telling the commandments and what happened around them but not the actual number. Interesting thought 🙂

  6. I just found this site because I too have had questions on the number of commandments.
    Today I was reading the bible and it clearly states to me that Jesus also gave two additional Commandments. From looking things up online, I see that many people have said that they were not New Commandments but just a different way of saying them. I reread the Commandments and have to say that I do not see them being said in the 10 Commandments, any thoughts on this.

    REF: Matthew 22: 34-40 (KJV)

    34 But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. 35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

  7. so tell me ,how come if you are so well read about the bible or Torah,you miss the first commandment.. and please give the readers the luxury to find out what a commandment is.

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    • “This last commandment I give to you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so shall you love one another.”

      Imagine a world if everybody tried to live up to that one!!!

  9. WOW! finally someone else With the same view. But Almost that is. tyou have to read this in hebrew to understand. If you se what is written it is God spoke and he said these Things. Now the first thing He says is I am The Lord Your God….. The second is You shall not have other gods…
    The thing about engraven image and not to bow Down to them is the same “commandment”. Now the Word commandment is not used i hebrew before this Word of God in the end. Where He says he will love those who keep His commandments.

    The Word He use is DVARIM, which means Things. But it’s a strange Word because it is Connected to ledaber which is build out of the letters dbr, so dvar can also mean Gods Word, or better Logos in Greek. The 10 commandments are in exodus 34, and it is the second set of Gods Word, and it is NOT the 10 commandments renewed, caus the thing about lies and stuff are not there. So? It’s ok to lie now? Of course not. It is what to do when you break the first 12. It’s the rules for atonement. The first set to Israel (the number of Israel is 12) is about what to do and what not to do. The second set is what to do when you break them in order to be forgiven. That’s why it’s about blood sacrifice ans all these things that are written there. Remember they start With – God will give them a land. Then not to make deals or intermarry be4ecause this will lead to whoring With other gods. Now if you start counting there you will get it right.

    The hoax about the 10 commandments is probably made by the Pharisees (rabbies) to put a smoke screen over the need for a temple and a blood sacrifice. Cause by definition there is no judaism, it’s a big hoax. They rejected their messiah and then the temle was destroyd, cause THAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT thin in the Law he fullfilled. The forgiveness of sin, and the prerequisites for it. So they freaked out in their excile in Babylon, and came up With the tradition of men as Jesus calls it. This is what we today know as the babylonian talmud. Now don’t think i’m anti-semmitic in any way, I have 3 jewish children.

  10. It’s OK to covert your neighbours house, car, swimming pool etc, it’s only his Ox that you can’t covert (according to original text).

    People think it’s OK to assume that it means property in general, but it is quite specific.

    It’s funny how people play fast and loose with what is metaphorical and what isn’t. They state how parts are the direct word of God, but the fluff and nonsense that is no longer relevant becomes metaphorical.

    The Lords prayer clearly states “give us each day our daily bread”, yet when a Christian friend gave up eating bread, and I challenged them, it became a metaphor for food in general (so why does it say bread rather than food?).
    These same people take the Bible very literally when it comes to their own personal prejudice (anti gay etc).

    I really wish people would take the time to study the Bible from a contextual and scientific basis also.

    The first record of the story of the virgin birth, for instance, wasn’t until 15 years after the death of Jesus (when Christianity had all but disappeared completely). It was a good story and got people practising the religion again.

    The fact that it was untrue didn’t matter. The fact that there was never any such population migration for any census ever recorded by the Roman authorities gets explained away as ” a fire burnt all records”.

    Let’s consider that for a moment; the huge Roman Empire asked all its inhabitants to return to the town of their birth. Why? There is no reason whatsoever for that to happen. They could have just asked people the name of the town they were born in and written it down.

    The Romans recorded everything fastidiously, but the entire records of the supposed census were destroyed when some city burned?

    That’s like saying that World War 3 happened in the 1960’s, but all the records were lost when the town hall flooded. It just isn’t possible.

  11. Probably the word dozen is the same word as ten just like how (jewish word for) son means male descendant of any number of generations (as used by the bible). Men are all sons of god, since we are descendant of Adam.

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