What are the 10 Commandments?
by Matt Slick
The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, refers to the commands given by God to Israel. They were engraved on two tablets of stone (Exodus 31:18) which were delivered to Moses at Mount Sinai around 1290 BC.1 Moses, after seeing Israel's great sin of idolatry, broke the tablets by throwing them down before the people (Exodus 32:19). God then wrote them a second time (Exodus 34:1). The Ten commandments cover the laws concerning the worship of God and proper conduct before people. They are listed twice in the Bible, Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.
The Ten Commandments appear to follow a covenant pattern from the third millennium BC. In that covenant model, the one initiating the covenant introduced himself (Exodus 20:2a; Deuteronomy 5:6a), stated his accomplishments (Exodus 20:2b; Deuteronomy 5:6b), and then provided a list of stipulations with rewards and punishments for keeping and/or breaking the stipulations. This is listed in the chart below.
The division of the commandments is not known for sure within the two tablets. Some theologians say that the first tablet contained the first four commandments, and the second tablet contained the other six. However, since it was common practice for each of the parties in a covenantal agreement to retain a copy of the covenant document (the Ten Commandments fit the covenant document pattern), it is most probable that the two stone tablets each contained all of the Ten Commandments. Furthermore, God retained a copy of the covenant since it was placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 10:2; 31:26), which is also called the footstool of God (1 Chronicles 28:2)--or at least since it is on earth which is called God's footstool as well (Isaiah 66:1). The Ark of the Covenant was in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle which was in the possession of Israel. So, we see the retention of the covenant documents by both parties.
The People of Israel ratified the covenant with God. Exodus 24:3, "Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!" The Ten Commandments were to be read to the people of Israel every seven years (Deuteronomy 31:9-13).
|Covenant Patter||EXODUS |
v. 2a (v.6a)
|(v.2a) “I am the Lord your God,||(v.6a) "I am the Lord your God|
|(v.2b) who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.||(v.6b) who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.|
|1st Command||Stipulation||(v.3) “You shall have no other gods before Me.||(v.7) ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.|
|(v.4) “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 “You shall not worship them or serve them; |
for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
|(v.8) ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 9 ‘You shall not worship them or serve them; |
for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
|(v.7) “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, |
for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
|(v.11) ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, |
for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
|Stipulation||(v.8) “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.||(v.12) ‘Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 ‘Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.|
|(v.12) “Honor your father and your mother, |
that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
|(v.16) ‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, |
that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the Lord your God gives you.
|Stipulation||(v.13) “You shall not murder.||(v.17) ‘You shall not murder.|
|Stipulation||(v. 14) “You shall not commit adultery.||(v.18) ‘You shall not commit adultery.|
|Stipulation||(v.15) “You shall not steal.||(v.19) ‘You shall not steal.|
|Stipulation||(v.16) “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.||(v.20) ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.|
|Stipulation||(v.17) “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”||(v.21) ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.’|
- 1. Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988.
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