20:1 See theological note “The Law of God” on the next page.
God spoke all these words. God spoke only these commandments directly to the people (vv. 18–20 and notes; 19:9; Deut. 4:10–14; 5:22–27; 9:10; Neh. 9:13). What are called “words” here are elsewhere called “commandments” (34:28; Deut. 4:13; 10:4). The Hebrew for “word” (dabar) was the term for stipulations in the political treaties of the time.
The Decalogue (from the Greek term meaning “ten words”) itself reflects the ancient treaty framework (Introduction: Date and Occasion). First comes the treaty preamble (“I am the Lord your God,” v. 2), then the historical prologue (“who brought you out of the land of Egypt”). The commandments themselves are the treaty stipulations. God is Israel’s Suzerain-King, to whom the people owe complete allegiance. The absence of penalties indicates that the Decalogue is not a legal code but rather a foundational covenant document. These covenant principles are then applied in the “Covenant Code,” a set of laws with penalties attached, which follows (20:22–23:19).