Exodus 20:1-3


  1. Context

    1. Larger literary unit (Exod. 19:1-23:33)
      1. The exodus is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Gen. 15:13-16.
      2. The deliverance promised by God was given through Moses and Aaron.
      3. Exodus 19 forms a spiritual preparation for the giving of the Torah.
      4. The Ten Words are followed by and in further amplification in "the Book of the Covenant" (Exod. 20:18-23:33), which is a detailed presentation of covenant life in: (see SPECIAL TOPIC: LAWS IN THE ANE)
        1. cultic worship
        2. civil laws
        3. moral and religious laws

    2. Immediate context The Ten Words seem to be naturally divisible between mankind's obligations first to God and then to his fellow covenant partners. Exodus 20:1-3 opens the explication of the vertical relationship. They set the foundation on which all else rests - the oneness and uniqueness of YHWH (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM).

    3. Historical form
      1. This revelation has cultural affinity to the Hittite Suzerainty Treaties of the second millennium B.C. (see SPECIAL TOPIC: HITTITE (SUZERAIN) TREATIES).
      2. The SECOND PERSON SINGULAR commands ("you") are unique to the Decalogue.
      3. For a good discussion of the Decalogue in light of ANE culture, see John H. Walton, ANE Thought and the OT (pp. 155-161).

  2. Word Study of Significant Terms

    1. Elohim = "God" (BDB 43, KB ), which is used 2,570 times in the OT (see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, C.)

    2. Possible etymology
      1. Other related Hebrew terms
        1. El (BDB 42, KB 48) = possibly an Akkadian root meaning "Mighty One" (see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, A.) It can be translated God or god
        2. Elah (Aramaic form) (mostly in Ezra 4-7 and Daniel 2-6)
        3. Eloah (SINGULAR) (mostly in Job)
      2. Elohim (used 2,570 times throughout the OT, see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, C.)
        1. PLURAL (possible translations)
          (1) rulers, judges as representatives of YHWH
          (2) divine ones, including God and angels and other gods
        2. INTENSIVE PLURAL (possible translations)
          (1) god or goddess
          (2) godlike one

    3. The rabbis assert that El or Elohim refers to God as creator, judge, and sustainer of the material order (cf. Genesis 1) - the All Powerful One!

    1. YHWH - "Lord" used 5,500 times in the OT (see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, D.) (abbreviated form in Exod. 15:6; 17:16; Isa. 12:2; 20:4; 38:11; and 35 times in the Psalms)

    2. Possible etymology - the significant passage in Exod. 3:12-15, where it is related to the Hebrew VERB "to be." This is the popular etymology because the technical etymology is uncertain.

    3. Translation variations (see notes online in Exod. 3:13-16)
      1. "I shall be with you" (Exod. 3:12)
      2. "I shall be the one who will be" (Exod. 3:14)
      3. "He who will be it" (Exod. 3:15)
      4. "I am he who I am"
      5. "I am who I am"
      6. "He who is"
      7. "I am that I am"
      8. "I am who I am"
      9. "I will be what I will be"
      10. "Lord" (in small capitals - normal English translation)
      11. LXX, "I am the Being"

    4. Often used in combination with Elohim - Lord God (first used in Gen. 2:4)

    5. The rabbis assert that YHWH is God in His mercy, love, and covenant fidelity. This is His unique name of covenant promise to Israel (cf. Exodus 3).

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