New English Translation
Israel at Sinai
19 [a] In the third month after the Israelites went out[b] from the land of Egypt, on the very day,[c] they came to the desert of Sinai. 2 After they journeyed[d] from Rephidim, they came to the desert of Sinai, and they camped in the desert; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.[e]
3 Moses[f] went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, “Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people[g] of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings[h] and brought you to myself.[i] 5 And now, if you will diligently listen to me[j] and keep[k] my covenant, then you will be my[l] special possession[m] out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, 6 and you will be to me[n] a kingdom of priests[o] and a holy nation.’[p] These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.”
7 So Moses came and summoned the elders of Israel. He set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him, 8 and all the people answered together, “All that the Lord has commanded we will do!”[q] So Moses brought the words of the people back to the Lord.
9 The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come[r] to you in a dense cloud,[s] so that the people may hear when I speak with you and so that they will always believe in you.”[t] And Moses told the words of the people to the Lord.
10 The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and sanctify them[u] today and tomorrow, and make them wash[v] their clothes 11 and be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You must set boundaries[w] for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed[x] to yourselves not to go up on the mountain nor touch its edge. Whoever touches the mountain will surely be put to death! 13 No hand will touch him[y]—but he will surely be stoned or shot through, whether a beast or a human being;[z] he must not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast they may[aa] go up on the mountain.”
14 Then Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. 15 He said to the people, “Be ready for the third day. Do not approach your wives for marital relations.”[ab]
16 On[ac] the third day in the morning there was thunder and lightning and a dense[ad] cloud on the mountain, and the sound of a very loud[ae] horn;[af] all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their place at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was completely covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire, and its smoke went up like the smoke of a great furnace,[ag] and the whole mountain shook[ah] violently. 19 When the sound of the horn grew louder and louder,[ai] Moses was speaking[aj] and God was answering him with a voice.[ak]
20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain, and the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down and solemnly warn[al] the people, lest they force their way through to the Lord to look, and many of them perish.[am] 22 Let the priests also, who approach the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break through[an] against them.”
23 Moses said to the Lord, “The people are not able to come up to Mount Sinai, because you solemnly warned us,[ao] ‘Set boundaries for the mountain and set it apart.’”[ap] 24 The Lord said to him, “Go, get down, and then come up, and Aaron with you, but do not let the priests and the people force their way through to come up to the Lord, lest he break through against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them.[aq]
20 [ar] God spoke all these words:[as]
2 “I,[at] the Lord, am your God,[au] who brought you[av] from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.[aw]
3 “You shall have no[ax] other gods before me.[ay]
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image[az] or any likeness[ba] of anything[bb] that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below.[bc] 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them,[bd] for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous[be] God, responding to[bf] the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations[bg] of those who reject me,[bh] 6 and showing covenant faithfulness[bi] to a thousand generations[bj] of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not take[bk] the name of the Lord your God in vain,[bl] for the Lord will not hold guiltless[bm] anyone who takes his name in vain.
8 “Remember[bn] the Sabbath[bo] day to set it apart as holy.[bp] 9 For six days[bq] you may labor[br] and do all your work,[bs] 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; on it[bt] you shall not do any work, you,[bu] or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gates.[bv] 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
12 “Honor[bw] your father and your mother, that you may live a long time[bx] in the land[by] the Lord your God is giving to you.
13 “You shall not murder.[bz]
14 “You shall not commit adultery.[ca]
15 “You shall not steal.[cb]
16 “You shall not give[cc] false testimony[cd] against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet[ce] your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor.”[cf]
18 All the people were seeing[cg] the thundering and the lightning, and heard[ch] the sound of the horn, and saw[ci] the mountain smoking—and when[cj] the people saw it they trembled with fear[ck] and kept their distance.[cl] 19 They said to Moses, “You speak[cm] to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you,[cn] that the fear of him[co] may be before you so that you do not[cp] sin.” 21 The people kept[cq] their distance, but Moses drew near the thick darkness[cr] where God was.[cs]
22 [ct] The Lord said[cu] to Moses, “Thus you will tell the Israelites: ‘You yourselves have seen that I have spoken with you from heaven. 23 You must not make gods of silver alongside me,[cv] nor make gods of gold for yourselves.[cw]
24 “‘You must make for me an altar made of earth,[cx] and you will sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings,[cy] your sheep and your cattle. In every place[cz] where I cause my name to be honored[da] I will come to you and I will bless you. 25 If you make me an altar of stone, you must not build it[db] of stones shaped with tools,[dc] for if you use your tool on it you have defiled it.[dd] 26 And you must not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness is not exposed.’[de]
- Exodus 19:1 sn This chapter is essentially about mediation. The people are getting ready to meet with God, receive the Law from him, and enter into a covenant with him. All of this required mediation and preparation. Through it all, Israel will become God’s unique possession, a kingdom of priests on earth—if they comply with his Law. The chapter can be divided as follows: vv. 1-8 tell how God, Israel’s great deliverer, promised to make them a kingdom of priests; this is followed by God’s declaration that Moses would be the mediator (v. 9); vv. 10-22 record instructions for Israel to prepare themselves to worship Yahweh and an account of the manifestation of Yahweh with all the phenomena; and the chapter closes with the mediation of Moses on behalf of the people (vv. 23-25). Having been redeemed from Egypt, the people will now be granted a covenant with God. See also R. E. Bee, “A Statistical Study of the Sinai Pericope,” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 135 (1972): 406-21.
- Exodus 19:1 tn The construction uses the infinitive construct followed by the subjective genitive to form a temporal clause.
- Exodus 19:1 tn Heb “on this day.”
- Exodus 19:2 tn The form is a preterite with vav (ו) consecutive, “and they journeyed.” It is here subordinated to the next clause as a temporal clause. But since the action of this temporal clause preceded the actions recorded in v. 1, a translation of “after” will keep the sequence in order. Verse 2 adds details to the summary in v. 1.
- Exodus 19:2 sn The mountain is Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, the place where God had met and called Moses and had promised that they would be here to worship him. If this mountain is Jebel Musa, the traditional site of Sinai, then the plain in front of it would be Er-Rahah, about a mile and a half long by half a mile wide, fronting the mountain on the NW side (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 169). The plain itself is about 5000 feet above sea level. A mountain on the west side of the Arabian Peninsula has also been suggested as a possible site.
- Exodus 19:3 tn Heb “and Moses went up.”
- Exodus 19:3 tn This expression is normally translated as “Israelites” in this translation, but because in this place it is parallel to “the house of Jacob” it seemed better to offer a fuller rendering.
- Exodus 19:4 tn The figure compares the way a bird would teach its young to fly and leave the nest with the way Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt. The bird referred to could be one of several species of eagles, but more likely is the griffin-vulture. The image is that of power and love.
- Exodus 19:4 sn The language here is the language of a bridegroom bringing the bride to the chamber. This may be a deliberate allusion to another metaphor for the covenant relationship.
- Exodus 19:5 tn Heb “listen to my voice.” The construction uses the imperfect tense in the conditional clause, preceded by the infinitive absolute from the same verb. The idiom “listen to the voice of” implies obedience, not just mental awareness of sound.
- Exodus 19:5 tn The verb is a perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive; it continues the idea in the protasis of the sentence: “and [if you will] keep.”
- Exodus 19:5 tn The lamed preposition expresses possession here: “to me” means “my.”
- Exodus 19:5 tn The noun is סְגֻלָּה (segullah), which means a special possession. Israel was to be God’s special possession, but the prophets will later narrow it to the faithful remnant. All the nations belong to God, but Israel was to stand in a place of special privilege and enormous responsibility. See Deut 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Ps 135:4; Mal 3:17. See M. Greenburg, “Hebrew segulla: Akkadian sikiltu,” JAOS 71 (1951): 172ff.
- Exodus 19:6 tn Or “for me” (NIV, NRSV), or, if the preposition ל (lamed) has a possessive use, “my kingdom” (so NCV).
- Exodus 19:6 tn The construction “a kingdom of priests” means that the kingdom is made up of priests. W. C. Kaiser (“Exodus,” EBC 2:417) offers four possible renderings of the expression: 1) apposition, viz., “kings, that is, priests”; 2) as a construct with a genitive of specification, “royal priesthood”; 3) as a construct with the genitive being the attribute, “priestly kingdom”; and 4) reading with an unexpressed “and”—“kings and priests.” He takes the latter view that they were to be kings and priests. (Other references are R. B. Y. Scott, “A Kingdom of Priests (Exodus xix. 6),” OTS 8 : 213-19; William L. Moran, “A Kingdom of Priests,” The Bible in Current Catholic Thought, 7-20). However, due to the parallelism of the next description which uses an adjective, this is probably a construct relationship. This kingdom of God will be composed of a priestly people. All the Israelites would be living wholly in God’s service and enjoying the right of access to him. And, as priests, they would have the duty of representing God to the nations, following what they perceived to be the duties of priests—proclaiming God’s word, interceding for people, and making provision for people to find God through atonement (see Deut 33:9, 10).
- Exodus 19:6 tn They are also to be “a holy nation.” They are to be a nation separate and distinct from the rest of the nations. Here is another aspect of their duty. It was one thing to be God’s special possession, but to be that they had to be priestly and holy. The duties of the covenant will specify what it would mean to be a holy nation. In short, they had to keep themselves free from everything that characterized pagan people (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 171). So it is a bilateral covenant: they received special privileges but they must provide special services by the special discipline. See also H. Kruse, “Exodus 19:5 and the Mission of Israel,” North East Asian Journal of Theology 24/25 (1980): 239-42.
- Exodus 19:8 tn The verb is an imperfect. The people are not being presumptuous in stating their compliance—there are several options open for the interpretation of this tense. It may be classified as having a desiderative nuance: “we are willing to do” or, “we will do.”
- Exodus 19:9 tn The construction uses the deictic particle and the participle to express the imminent future, what God was about to do. Here is the first announcement of the theophany.
- Exodus 19:9 tn Heb “the thickness of the cloud”; KJV, ASV, NASB, NCV, TEV, CEV, NLT “in a thick cloud.”
- Exodus 19:9 tn Since “and also in you” begins the clause, the emphasis must be that the people would also trust Moses. See Exod 4:1-9, 31; 14:31.
- Exodus 19:10 tn This verb is a Piel perfect with vav (ו) consecutive; it continues the force of the imperative preceding it. This sanctification would be accomplished by abstaining from things that would make them defiled or unclean, and then by ritual washings and ablutions.
- Exodus 19:10 tn The form is a perfect 3cpl with a vav (ו) consecutive. It is instructional as well, but now in the third person it is like a jussive, “let them wash, make them wash.”
- Exodus 19:12 tn The verb is a Hiphil perfect (“make borders”) with vav (ו) consecutive, following the sequence of instructions.
- Exodus 19:12 tn The Niphal imperative (“guard yourselves, take heed to yourselves”) is followed by two infinitives construct that provide the description of what is to be avoided—going up or touching the mountain.
- Exodus 19:13 sn There is some ambiguity here. The clause either means that no man will touch the mountain, so that if there is someone who is to be put to death he must be stoned or shot since they could not go into the mountain region to get him, or, it may mean no one is to touch the culprit who went in to the region of the mountain.
- Exodus 19:13 tn Heb “a man.”
- Exodus 19:13 tn The nuance here is permissive imperfect, “they may go up.” The ram’s horn would sound the blast to announce that the revelation period was over and it was permitted then to ascend the mountain.
- Exodus 19:15 tn Heb “do not approach a woman.” The phrase with נָגַשׁ (nagash, “approach”) is an idiom for sexual relations, which is also true of similar verbs such as בּוֹא אֶל (boʾ ʾel, “come to”) and קָרַב (qarav, “approach”). NIV “Abstain from sexual relations.” NASV “Do not go near a woman.” Temporary abstinence was also part of the prescribed practice for war efforts because the Lord would be in their camp (Deut 23:9-14).sn B. Jacob (Exodus, 537) notes that as the people were to approach him they were not to lose themselves in earthly love. Such separations prepared the people for meeting God. Sinai was like a bride, forbidden to anyone else. Abstinence was the spiritual preparation for coming into the presence of the Holy One.
- Exodus 19:16 tn Heb “and it was on.”
- Exodus 19:16 tn Heb “heavy” (כָּבֵד, kaved).
- Exodus 19:16 tn Literally “strong” (חָזָק, khazaq).
- Exodus 19:16 tn The word here is שֹׁפָר (shofar), the normal word for “horn.” This word is used especially to announce something important in a public event (see 1 Kgs 1:34; 2 Sam 6:15). The previous word used in the context (v. 16) was יֹבֵל (yovel, “ram’s horn”).
- Exodus 19:18 sn The image is that of a large kiln, as in Gen 19:28.
- Exodus 19:18 tn This is the same word translated “trembled” above (v. 16).
- Exodus 19:19 tn The active participle הוֹלֵךְ (holekh) is used to add the idea of “continually” to the action of the sentence; here the trumpet became very loud—continually. See GKC 344 §113.u.
- Exodus 19:19 tn The two verbs here (“spoke” and “answered”) are imperfect tenses; they emphasize repeated action but in past time. The customary imperfect usually is translated “would” or “used to” do the action, but here continuous action in past time is meant. S. R. Driver translates it “kept speaking” and “kept answering” (Exodus, 172).
- Exodus 19:19 tn The text simply has בְּקוֹל (beqol); it could mean “with a voice” or it could mean “in thunder” since “voice” was used in v. 16 for thunder. In this context it would be natural to say that the repeated thunderings were the voice of God—but how is that an answer? Deut 4:12 says that the people heard the sound of words. U. Cassuto (Exodus, 232-33) rightly comments, “He was answering him with a loud voice so that it was possible for Moses to hear His words clearly in the midst of the storm.” He then draws a parallel from Ugaritic where it tells that one of the gods was speaking in a loud voice.
- Exodus 19:21 tn The imperative הָעֵד (haʿed) means “charge” them—put them under oath, or solemnly warn them. God wished to ensure that the people would not force their way past the barriers that had been set out.
- Exodus 19:21 tn Heb “and fall”; NAB “be struck down.”
- Exodus 19:22 tn The verb יִפְרֹץ (yifrots) is the imperfect tense from פָּרַץ (parats, “to make a breach, to break through”). The image of Yahweh breaking forth on them means “work destruction” (see 2 Sam 6:8; S. R. Driver, Exodus, 174).
- Exodus 19:23 tn The construction is emphatic: “because you—you solemnly warned us.” Moses’ response to God is to ask how they would break through when God had already charged them not to. God knew them better than Moses did.
- Exodus 19:23 tn Heb “sanctify it.”
- Exodus 19:25 sn The passage has many themes and emphases that could be developed in exposition. It could serve for meditation, that is, the theology drawn from the three parts could be subordinated to the theme of holiness: God is holy, therefore adhere to his word for service, approach him through a mediator, and adore him in purity and fearful reverence. A developed outline for the exposition could be organized as follows: I. If the people of God will obey him, they will be privileged to serve in a unique way (vv. 1-8); II. If the people of God are to obey, they must be convinced of the divine source of their commands (v. 9); and finally, III. If the people of God are convinced of the divine approval of their mediator, and the divine source of their instructions, they must sanctify themselves before him (vv. 10-25). In sum, the manifestation of the holiness of Yahweh is the reason for sanctification and worship. The correlation is to be made through 1 Peter 2 to the church. The Church is a kingdom of priests; it is to obey the Word of God. What is the motivation for this? Their mediator is Jesus Christ; he has the approval of the Father and manifests the glory of God to his own; and he declares the purpose of their calling is to display his glory. God’s people are to abstain from sin so that pagans can see their good works and glorify God.
- Exodus 20:1 sn This chapter is the heart of the Law of Israel, and as such is well known throughout the world. There is so much literature on it that it is almost impossible to say anything briefly and do justice to the subject. But the exposition of the book must point out that this is the charter of the new nation of Israel. These ten commands (words) form the preamble; they will be followed by the decisions (judgments). And then in chap. 24 the covenant will be inaugurated. So when Israel entered into covenant with God, they entered into a theocracy by expressing their willingness to submit to his authority. The Law was the binding constitution for the nation of Israel under Yahweh their God. It was specifically given to them at a certain time and in a certain place. The Law legislated how Israel was to live in order to be blessed by God and used by him as a kingdom of priests. In the process of legislating their conduct and their ritual for worship, the Law revealed God. It revealed the holiness of Yahweh as the standard for all worship and service, and in revealing that it revealed or uncovered sin. But what the Law condemned, the Law (Leviticus) also made provision for in the laws of the sacrifice and the feasts intended for atonement. The NT teaches that the Law was good, and perfect, and holy. But it also teaches that Christ was the end (goal) of the Law, that it ultimately led to him. It was a pedagogue, Paul said, to bring people to Christ. And when the fulfillment of the promise came in him, believers were not to go back under the Law. What this means for Christians is that what the Law of Israel revealed about God and his will is timeless and still authoritative over faith and conduct, but what the Law regulated for Israel in their existence as the people of God has been done away with in Christ. The Ten Commandments reveal the essence of the Law; the ten for the most part are reiterated in the NT because they reflect the holy and righteous nature of God. The NT often raises them to a higher standard, to guard the spirit of the Law as well as the letter.
- Exodus 20:1 sn The Bible makes it clear that the Law was the revelation of God at Mount Sinai. And yet study has shown that the law code’s form follows the literary pattern of covenant codes in the Late Bronze Age, notably the Hittite codes. The point of such codes is that all the covenant stipulations are appropriate because of the wonderful things that the sovereign has done for the people. God, in using a well-known literary form, was both drawing on the people’s knowledge of such to impress their duties on them, as well as putting new wine into old wineskins. The whole nature of God’s code was on a much higher level. For this general structure, see M. G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King. For the Ten Commandments specifically, see J. J. Stamm and M. E. Andrew, The Ten Commandments in Recent Research (SBT). See also some of the general articles: M. Barrett, “God’s Moral Standard: An Examination of the Decalogue,” BV 12 (1978): 34-40; C. J. H. Wright, “The Israelite Household and the Decalogue: The Social Background and Significance of Some Commandments,” TynBul 30 (1979): 101-24; J. D. Levenson, “The Theologies of Commandment in Biblical Israel,” HTR 73 (1980): 17-33; M. B. Cohen and D. B. Friedman, “The Dual Accentuation of the Ten Commandments,” Masoretic Studies 1 (1974): 7-190; D. Skinner, “Some Major Themes of Exodus,” Mid-America Theological Journal 1 (1977): 31-42; M. Tate, “The Legal Traditions of the Book of Exodus,” RevExp 74 (1977): 483-509; E. C. Smith, “The Ten Commandments in Today’s Permissive Society: A Principleist Approach,” SwJT 20 (1977): 42-58; and D. W. Buck, “Exodus 20:1-17, ” Lutheran Theological Journal 16 (1982): 65-75.
- Exodus 20:2 sn The revelation of Yahweh here begins with the personal pronoun. “I”—a person, a living personality, not an object or a mere thought. This enabled him to address “you”—Israel, and all his people, making the binding stipulations for them to conform to his will (B. Jacob, Exodus, 544).
- Exodus 20:2 tn Most English translations have “I am Yahweh your God.” But the preceding chapters have again and again demonstrated how he made himself known to them. Now, the emphasis is on “I am your God”—and what that would mean in their lives.
- Exodus 20:2 tn The suffix on the verb is second masculine singular. It is this person that will be used throughout the commandments for the whole nation. God addresses them all as his people, but he addresses them individually for their obedience. The masculine form is not, thereby, intended to exclude women.
- Exodus 20:2 tn Heb “the house of slaves” meaning “the land of slavery.”sn By this announcement Yahweh declared what he had done for Israel by freeing them from slavery. Now they are free to serve him. He has a claim on them for gratitude and obedience. But this will not be a covenant of cruel slavery and oppression; it is a covenant of love, as God is saying “I am yours, and you are mine.” This was the sovereign Lord of creation and of history speaking, declaring that he was their savior.
- Exodus 20:3 tn The possession is expressed here by the use of the preposition ל (lamed) and the verb “to be”: לֹא־יִהְיֶה לְךָ (loʾ yihyeh lekha, “there will not be to you”). The negative with the imperfect expresses the emphatic prohibition; it is best reflected with “you will not” and has the strongest expectation of obedience (see GKC 317 §107.o). As an additional way of looking at this line, U. Cassuto suggests that the verb is in the singular in order to say that they could not have even one other god, and the word “gods” is plural to include any gods (Exodus, 241).
- Exodus 20:3 tn The expression עַל־פָּנָי (ʿal panay) has several possible interpretations. S. R. Driver suggests “in front of me,” meaning obliging me to behold them, and also giving a prominence above me (Exodus, 193-94). W. F. Albright rendered it “You shall not prefer other gods to me” (From the Stone Age to Christianity, 297, n. 29). B. Jacob (Exodus, 546) illustrates it with marriage: the wife could belong to only one man while every other man was “another man.” They continued to exist but were not available to her. The point is clear from the Law, regardless of the specific way the prepositional phrase is rendered. God demands absolute allegiance, to the exclusion of all other deities. The preposition may imply some antagonism, for false gods would be opposed to Yahweh. U. Cassuto adds that God was in effect saying that anytime Israel turned to a false god they had to know that the Lord was there—it is always in his presence, or before him (Exodus, 241).
- Exodus 20:4 tn A פֶּסֶל (pesel) is an image that was carved out of wood or stone. The Law was concerned with a statue that would be made for the purpose of worship, an idol to be venerated, and not any ordinary statue.
- Exodus 20:4 tn The word תְּמוּנָה (temunah) refers to the mental pattern from which the פֶּסֶל (pesel) is constructed; it is a real or imagined resemblance. If this is to stand as a second object to the verb, then the verb itself takes a slightly different nuance here. It would convey “you shall not make an image, neither shall you conceive a form” for worship (B. Jacob, Exodus, 547). Some simply make the second word qualify the first: “you shall not make an idol in the form of…” (NIV).
- Exodus 20:4 tn Here the phrase “of anything” has been supplied.
- Exodus 20:4 tn Heb “under the earth” (so KJV, ASV, NASB, NRSV).
- Exodus 20:5 tn The combination of these two verbs customarily refers to the worship of pagan deities (e.g., Deut 17:3: 30:17; Jer 8:2; see J. J. Stamm and M. E. Andrew, The Ten Commandments in Recent Research [SBT], 86). The first verb is לאֹ־תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה (loʾ tishtakhaveh), now to be classified as a Hishtaphel imperfect from חָוָה (khavah; BDB 1005 s.v. שׁחה), “to make oneself to be low to the ground.” It is used of the true worship of God as well. The second verb is וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם (veloʾ toʿovdem). The two could be taken as a hendiadys: “you will not prostrate yourself to serve them.” In an interesting side comment U. Cassuto (Exodus, 242) suggests that the second verb was spelled with the qamets khatuf vowel to show contempt for pagan worship, as if their conduct does not even warrant a correct spelling of the word “serve.” Gesenius says that forms like this are anomalous, but he wonders if it was pointed as a Hophal with the meaning “you shall not allow yourself to be brought to worship them” (GKC 161 §60.b).
- Exodus 20:5 sn The word “jealous” is the same word often translated “zeal” or “zealous.” The word describes a passionate intensity to protect or defend something that is jeopardized. The word can also have the sense of “envy,” but in that case the object is out of bounds. God’s zeal or jealousy is to protect his people or his institutions or his honor. Yahweh’s honor is bound up with the life of his people.
- Exodus 20:5 tn Verses 5 and 6 are very concise, and the word פָּקַד (paqad) is difficult to translate. Often rendered “visiting,” it might here be rendered “dealing with” in a negative sense or “punishing,” but it describes positive attention in 13:19. When used of God, it essentially means that God intervenes in the lives of people for blessing or for cursing. Some would simply translate the participle here as “punishing” the children for the sins of the fathers (cf. Lev 18:25; Isa 26:21; Jer 29:32; 36:31; Hos 1:4; Amos 3:2). That is workable, but may not say enough. The verse may indicate that those who hate Yahweh and do not keep his commandments will repeat the sins their fathers committed and suffer for them. Deut 24:16 says that individuals will die for their own sins and not their father’s sins (see also Deut 7:10 and Ezek 18). It may have more to do with patterns of sin being repeated from generation to generation; if the sin and the guilt were not fully developed in the one generation, then left unchecked they would develop and continue in the next. But it may also indicate that the effects of the sins of the fathers will be experienced in the following generations, especially in the case of Israel as a national entity (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 243). God is showing here that his ethical character is displayed in how he deals with sin and righteousness, all of which he describes as giving strong motivation for loyalty to him and for avoiding idolatry. There is a justice at work in the dealings of God that is not present in the pagan world.
- Exodus 20:5 tn The Hebrew word for “generations” is not found in v. 5 or 6. The numbers are short for a longer expression, which is understood as part of the description of the children already mentioned (see Deut 7:9, where “generation” [דּוֹר, dor] is present and more necessary, since “children” have not been mentioned).
- Exodus 20:5 tn This is an important qualification to the principle. The word rendered “reject” is often translated “hate” and carries with it the idea of defiantly rejecting and opposing God and his word. Such people are doomed to carry on the sins of their ancestors and bear guilt with them.
- Exodus 20:6 tn Literally “doing loyal love” (עֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד, ʿoseh khesed). The noun refers to God’s covenant loyalty, his faithful love to those who belong to him. These are members of the covenant, recipients of grace, the people of God, whom God will preserve and protect from evil and its effects.
- Exodus 20:6 tn Heb “to thousands” or “to thousandth.” After “tenth,” Hebrew uses cardinal numbers for ordinals also. This statement is the antithesis of the preceding line. The “thousands” or “thousandth [generation]” are those who love Yahweh and keep his commands. These are descendants from the righteous, and even associates with them, who benefit from the mercy that God extends to his people. S. R. Driver (Exodus, 195) says that this passage teaches that God’s mercy transcends his wrath; in his providence the beneficial consequences of a life of goodness extend indefinitely further than the retribution that is the penalty for persisting in sin. To say that God’s loyal love extends to thousands of generations or the thousandth generation is parallel to saying that it endures forever (Ps 118). See also Exod 34:7; Deut 5:10; 7:9; Ps 18:50; Jer 32:18.
- Exodus 20:7 tn Or “use” (NCV, TEV); NIV, CEV, NLT “misuse”; NRSV “make wrongful use of.”
- Exodus 20:7 tn שָׁוְא (shavʾ, “vain”) describes “unreality.” The command prohibits use of the name for any idle, frivolous, or insincere purpose (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 196). This would include perjury, pagan incantations, or idle talk. The name is to be treated with reverence and respect because it is the name of the holy God.
- Exodus 20:7 tn Or “leave unpunished.”
- Exodus 20:8 tn The text uses the infinitive absolute זָכוֹר (zakhor) for the commandment for the Sabbath day, which is the sign of the Sinaitic Covenant. The infinitive absolute functions in place of the emphatic imperative here (see GKC 346 §113.bb); the absolute stresses the basic verbal idea of the root—remembering. The verb includes the mental activity of recalling and pondering as well as the consequent actions for such remembering.
- Exodus 20:8 tn The word “Sabbath” is clearly connected to the verb שָׁבַת (shavat, “to cease, desist, rest”). There are all kinds of theories as to the origin of the day, most notably in the Babylonian world, but the differences are striking in so far as the pagan world had these days filled with magic. Nevertheless, the pagan world does bear witness to a tradition of a regular day set aside for special sacrifices. See, for example, H. W. Wolff, “The Day of Rest in the Old Testament,” LTQ 7 (1972): 65-76; H. Routtenberg, “The Laws of Sabbath: Biblical Sources,” Dor le Dor 6 (1977): 41-43, 99-101, 153-55, 204-6; G. Robinson, “The Idea of Rest in the OT and the Search for the Basic Character of Sabbath,” ZAW 92 (1980): 32-42; and M. Tsevat, “The Basic Meaning of the Biblical Sabbath,” ZAW 84 (1972): 447-59.
- Exodus 20:8 tn The Piel infinitive construct provides the purpose of remembering the Sabbath day—to set it apart, to make it distinct from the other days. Verses 9 and 10 explain in part how this was to be done. To set this day apart as holy taught Israel the difference between the holy and the profane, that there was something higher than daily life. If an Israelite bent down to the ground laboring all week, the Sabbath called his attention to the heavens, to pattern life after the Creator (B. Jacob, Exodus, 569-70).
- Exodus 20:9 tn The text has simply “six days,” but this is an adverbial accusative of time, answering how long they were to work (GKC 374 §118.k).
- Exodus 20:9 tn The imperfect tense has traditionally been rendered as a commandment, “you will labor.” But the point of this commandment is the prohibition of work on the seventh day. The permission nuance of the imperfect works well here.
- Exodus 20:9 tn This is the occupation, or business of the work week.
- Exodus 20:10 tn The phrase “on it” has been supplied for clarity.
- Exodus 20:10 sn The wife is omitted in the list, not that she was considered unimportant, nor that she was excluded from the rest, but rather in reflecting her high status. She was not man’s servant, not lesser than the man, but included with the man as an equal before God. The “you” of the commandments is addressed to the Israelites individually, male and female, just as God in the Garden of Eden held both the man and the woman responsible for their individual sins (see B. Jacob, Exodus, 567-68).
- Exodus 20:10 sn The Sabbath day was the sign of the Sinaitic Covenant. It required Israel to cease from ordinary labors and devote the day to God. It required Israel to enter into the life of God, to share his Sabbath. It gave them a chance to recall the work of the Creator. But in the NT the apostolic teaching for the Church does not make one day holier than another, but calls for the entire life to be sanctified to God. This teaching is an application of the meaning of entering into the Sabbath of God. The book of Hebrews declares that those who believe in Christ cease from their works and enter into his Sabbath rest. For a Christian keeping Saturday holy is not a requirement from the NT; it may be a good and valuable thing to have a day of rest and refreshment, but it is not a binding law for the Church. The principle of setting aside time to worship and serve the Lord has been carried forward, but the strict regulations have not.
- Exodus 20:12 tn The verb כַּבֵּד (kabbed) is a Piel imperative; it calls for people to give their parents the respect and honor that is appropriate for them. It could be paraphrased to say, give them the weight of authority that they deserve. Next to God, parents were to be highly valued, cared for, and respected.
- Exodus 20:12 tn Heb “that your days may be long.”
- Exodus 20:12 sn The promise here is national rather than individual, although it is certainly true that the blessing of life was promised for anyone who was obedient to God’s commands (Deut 4:1; 8:1, etc.). But as W. C. Kaiser (“Exodus,” EBC 2:424) summarizes, the land that was promised was the land of Canaan, and the duration of Israel in the land was to be based on morality and the fear of God as expressed in the home (Deut 4:26, 33, 40; 32:46-47). The captivity was in part caused by a breakdown in this area (Ezek 22:7, 15). Malachi would announce at the end of his book that Elijah would come at the end of the age to turn the hearts of the children and the parents toward each other again.
- Exodus 20:13 tn The verb רָצַח (ratsakh) refers to the premeditated or accidental taking of the life of another human being; it includes any unauthorized killing (it is used for the punishment of a murderer, but that would not be included in the prohibition). This commandment teaches the sanctity of all human life. See J. H. Yoder, “Exodus 20, 13: ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’,” Int 34 (1980): 394-99; and A. Phillips, “Another Look at Murder,” JJS 28 (1977): 105-26.
- Exodus 20:14 sn This is a sin against the marriage of a fellow citizen—it destroys the home. The Law distinguished between adultery (which had a death penalty) and sexual contact with a young woman (which carried a monetary fine and usually marriage if the father was willing). So it distinguished fornication and adultery. Both were sins, but the significance of each was different. In the ancient world this sin is often referred to as “the great sin.”
- Exodus 20:15 sn This law protected the property of the Israelite citizen. See D. Little, “Exodus 20:15: ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’,” Int 34 (1980): 399-405.
- Exodus 20:16 tn Heb “answer” as in a court of law.
- Exodus 20:16 tn The expression עֵד שָׁקֶר (ʿed shaqer) means “a lying witness” (B. S. Childs, Exodus [OTL], 388). In this verse the noun is an adverbial accusative, “you will not answer as a lying witness.” The prohibition is against perjury. While the precise reference would be to legal proceedings, the law probably had a broader application to lying about other people in general (see Lev 5:1; Hos 4:2).
- Exodus 20:17 tn The verb חָמַד (khamad) focuses not on an external act but on an internal mental activity behind the act, the motivation for it. The word can be used in a very good sense (Pss 19:10; 68:16), but it has a bad connotation in contexts where the object desired is off limits. This command is aimed at curtailing the greedy desire for something belonging to a neighbor, a desire that leads to the taking of it or the attempt to take it. It was used in the story of the Garden of Eden for the tree that was desired.
- Exodus 20:17 sn See further G. Wittenburg, “The Tenth Commandment in the Old Testament,” Journal for Theology in South Africa 21 (1978): 3-17: and E. W. Nicholson, “The Decalogue as the Direct Address of God,” VT 27 (1977): 422-33.
- Exodus 20:18 tn The participle is used here for durative action in the past time (GKC 359 §116.o).
- Exodus 20:18 tn The verb “to see” (רָאָה, raʾah) refers to seeing with all the senses, or perceiving. W. C. Kaiser suggests that this is an example of the figure of speech called zeugma because the verb “saw” yokes together two objects, one that suits the verb and the other that does not. So, the verb “heard” is inserted here to clarify (“Exodus,” EBC 2:427).
- Exodus 20:18 tn The verb “saw” is supplied here because it is expected in English (see the previous note on “heard”).
- Exodus 20:18 tn The preterite with vav (ו) consecutive is here subordinated as a temporal clause to the following clause, which receives the prominence.
- Exodus 20:18 tn The meaning of נוּעַ (nuaʿ) is “to shake, sway to and fro” in fear. Cf. Isa 7:2 “and his heart shook…as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.”
- Exodus 20:18 tn Heb “and they stood from/at a distance.”
- Exodus 20:19 tn The verb is a Piel imperative. In this context it has more of the sense of a request than a command. The independent personal pronoun “you” emphasizes the subject and forms the contrast with God’s speaking.
- Exodus 20:20 tn נַסּוֹת (nassot) is the Piel infinitive construct; it forms the purpose of God’s coming with all the accompanying phenomena. The verb can mean “to try, test, prove.” The sense of “prove” fits this context best because the terrifying phenomena were intended to put the fear of God in their hearts so that they would obey. In other words, God was inspiring them to obey, not simply testing to see if they would.
- Exodus 20:20 tn The suffix on the noun is an objective genitive, referring to the fear that the people would have of God (GKC 439 §135.m).
- Exodus 20:20 tn The negative form לְבִלְתִּי (levilti) is used here with the imperfect tense (see for other examples GKC 483 §152.x). This gives the imperfect the nuance of a final imperfect: that you might not sin. Others: to keep you from sin.
- Exodus 20:21 tn Heb “and they stood”; the referent (the people) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
- Exodus 20:21 sn The word עֲרָפֶל (ʿarafel) is used in poetry in Ps 18:9 and 1 Kgs 8:12; and it is used in Deut 4:11; 5:22 .
- Exodus 20:21 sn It will not be hard to expound the passage on the Ten Commandments once their place in scripture has been determined. They, for the most part, are reiterated in the NT, in one way or another, usually with a much higher standard that requires attention to the spirit of the laws. Thus, these laws reveal God’s standard of righteousness by revealing sin. No wonder the Israelites were afraid when they saw the manifestation of God and heard his laws. When the whole covenant is considered, preamble and all, then it becomes clear that the motivation for obeying the commands is the person and the work of the covenant God—the one who redeemed his people. Obedience then becomes a response of devotion and adoration to the Redeemer who set them free. It becomes loyal service, not enslavement to laws. The point could be worded this way: God requires that his covenant people, whom he has redeemed, and to whom he has revealed himself, give their absolute allegiance and obedience to him. This means they will worship and serve him and safeguard the well-being of each other.
- Exodus 20:22 sn Based on the revelation of the holy sovereign God, this pericope instructs Israel on the form of proper worship of such a God. It focuses on the altar, the centerpiece of worship. The point of the section is this: those who worship this holy God must preserve holiness in the way they worship—they worship where he permits, in the manner he prescribes, and with the blessings he promises. This paragraph is said to open the Book of the Covenant, which specifically rules on matters of life and worship.
- Exodus 20:22 tn Heb “and Yahweh said.”
- Exodus 20:23 tn The direct object of the verb must be “gods of silver.” The prepositional phrase modifies the whole verse to say that these gods would then be alongside the one true God.
- Exodus 20:23 tn Heb “neither will you make for you gods of gold.”sn U. Cassuto explains that by the understanding of parallelism each of the halves apply to the whole verse, so that “with me” and “for you” concern gods of silver or gods of gold (Exodus, 255).
- Exodus 20:24 sn The instructions here call for the altar to be made of natural things, not things manufactured or shaped by man. The altar was either to be made of clumps of earth or natural, unhewn rocks.
- Exodus 20:24 sn The “burnt offering” is the offering prescribed in Lev 1. Everything of this animal went up in smoke as a sweet aroma to God. It signified complete surrender by the worshiper who brought the animal, and complete acceptance by God, thereby making atonement. The “peace offering” is legislated in Lev 3 and 7. This was a communal meal offering to celebrate being at peace with God. It was made usually for thanksgiving, for payment of vows, or as a freewill offering.
- Exodus 20:24 tn Gesenius lists this as one of the few places where the noun in construct seems to be indefinite in spite of the fact that the genitive has the article. He says בְּכָל־הַמָּקוֹם (bekhol hammaqom) means “in all the place, sc. of the sanctuary,” and is a dogmatic correction of “in every place” (כָּל־מָקוֹם, kol maqom). See GKC 412 §127.e.
- Exodus 20:24 tn The verb is זָכַר (zakhar, “to remember”), but in the Hiphil especially it can mean more than remember or cause to remember (remind)—it has the sense of praise or honor. B. S. Childs says it has a denominative meaning, “to proclaim” (Exodus [OTL], 447). The point of the verse is that God will give Israel reason for praising and honoring him, and in every place that occurs he will make his presence known by blessing them.
- Exodus 20:25 tn Heb “them” referring to the stones.
- Exodus 20:25 tn Heb “of hewn stones.” Gesenius classifies this as an adverbial accusative—“you shall not build them (the stones of the altar) as hewn stones.” The remoter accusative is in apposition to the nearer (GKC 372 §117.kk).
- Exodus 20:25 tn The verb is a preterite with vav (ו) consecutive. It forms the apodosis in a conditional clause: “if you lift up your tool on it…you have defiled it.”
- Exodus 20:26 tn Heb “uncovered” (so ASV, NAB).
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