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“I,[a] the Lord, am your God,[b] who brought you[c] from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.[d]

“You shall have no[e] other gods before me.[f]

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image[g] or any likeness[h] of anything[i] that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below.[j]

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  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. 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).
  9. Exodus 20:4 tn Here the phrase “of anything” has been supplied.
  10. Exodus 20:4 tn Heb “under the earth” (so KJV, ASV, NASB, NRSV).

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