Exodus 20:1
And God spake all these words, saying,
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(1) God spake.—It is distinctly stated in Deuteronomy that the Ten Commandments were spoken to “all the assembly of Israel,” by God, “out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice” (Deuteronomy 5:22). It was not till after their delivery that the people entreated to be spared further communications of so awful a character. How the sounds were produced is a mystery unrevealed, and on which it is idle to speculate. Jehovah alone appears as the speaker in the Old Testament; in the New, we hear of the instrumentality of angels (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2).

All these words.—In Scripture the phrase used to designate the Ten Commandments is “the Ten Words” (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 10:4). It has been universally recognised, both by the Jewish and Christian Churches, that they occupy an unique position among the utterances which constitute God’s revelation to man. Alone uttered publicly by God in the ears of the people, alone inscribed on stone by the finger of God Himself, alone, of all commands, deposited in the penetrale of worship—the Ark—they formed the germ and basis, the very pith and kernel of the covenant which God, through Moses, made with man, and which was to continue for above thirteen hundred years the exposition of His will to the human race. They enunciate a morality infinitely above that of all the then existing nations of the earth—nay, above that of the wisest of mankind to whom revelation was unknown. There is no compendium of morality in Confucianism, in Buddhism, in the religion of Zoroaster, or of Egypt, or of Greece or Rome, which can be put in competition with the Decalogue. Broad exceedingly (Psalm 119:96), yet searching and minute in its requirements; embracing the whole range of human duty, yet never vague or indeterminate; systematic, yet free from the hardness and narrowness commonly attaching to systems: the Decalogue has maintained and will always maintain itself, if not as an absolutely complete summary of human duty, yet as a summary which has never been superseded. When our Lord was asked what a man must do to inherit eternal life, He replied by a reference to the Decalogue: “Thou knowest the commandments” (Mark 10:19). When the Church would impress on her children their complete duty both to God and man, she requires them to be taught the “Ten Words.” When adult Christians are to be reminded, before coming to Holy Communion, of the necessity of self-examination and repentance, the same summary is read to them. It is an extraordinary testimony to the excellence of the compendium that, originating in Judaism, it has been maintained unchanged in a religious system so different from Judaism as Christianity.



Exodus 20:1 - - Exodus 20:11

An obscure tribe of Egyptian slaves plunges into the desert to hide from pursuit, and emerges, after forty years, with a code gathered into ‘ten words,’ so brief, so complete, so intertwining morality and religion, so free from local or national peculiarities, so close fitting to fundamental duties, that it is to-day, after more than three thousand years, authoritative in the most enlightened peoples. The voice that spoke from Sinai reverberates in all lands. The Old World had other lawgivers who professed to formulate their precepts by divine inspiration: they are all fallen silent. But this voice, like the trumpet on that day, waxes louder and louder as the years roll. Whose voice was it? The only answer explaining the supreme purity of the commandments, and their immortal freshness, is found in the first sentence of this paragraph, ‘God spake all these words.’

I. We have first the revelation, which precedes and lays the foundation for the commandments; ‘I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt.’ God speaks to the nation as a whole, establishing a special relation between Himself and them, which is founded on His redeeming act, and is reciprocal, requiring that they should be His people, as He is their God. The manifestation in act of His power and of His love precedes the claim for reverence and obedience. This is a universal truth. God gives before He asks us to give. He is not a hard taskmaster, ‘gathering where He has not strawn.’ Even in that system which is eminently ‘the law,’ the foundation is a divine act of deliverance, and only when He has won the people for Himself by redeeming them from bondage does He call on them for obedience. His rule is built on benefits. He urges no mere right of the mightier, nor cares for service which is not the glad answer of gratitude. The flashing flames which ran as swift heralds before His descending chariot wheels, the quaking mountain, the long-drawn blasts of the trumpet, awed the gathered crowd. But the first articulate words made a tenderer appeal, and sought to found His right to command on His love, and their duty to obey on their gratitude. The great gospel principle, that the Redeemer is the lawgiver, and the redeemed are joyful subjects because their hearts are touched with love, underlies the apparently sterner system of the Old Testament. God opens His heart first, and then asks for men’s.

This prelude certainly confines the Decalogue to the people of Israel. Their deliverance is the ground on which the law is rested, therefore, plainly, the obligation can be no wider than the benefit. But though we are not bound to obey any of the Ten Commandments, because they were given to Israel, they are all, with one exception, demonstrably, a transcript of laws written on the heart of mankind; and this fact carries with it a strong presumption that the law of the Sabbath, which is the exception referred to, should be regarded as not an exception, but as a statute of the primeval law, witnessed to by conscience, republished in wondrous precision and completeness in these venerable precepts. The Ten Commandments are binding on us; but they are not binding as part, though the fundamental part, of the Jewish law.

Two general observations may be made. One is on the negative character of the commandments as a whole. Law prohibits because men are sinful. But prohibitions pre-suppose as their foundation positive commands. We are forbidden to do something because we are inclined to do it, and because we ought to do the opposite. Every ‘thou shalt not’ implies a deeper ‘thou shalt.’ The cold negation really rests on the converse affirmative command.

The second remark on the law as a whole is as to the relation which it establishes between religion and morality, making the latter a part of the former, but regarding it as secured only by the prior discharge of the obligations of the former. Morality is the garb of religion; religion is the animating principle of morality. The attempts to build up a theory of ethics without reference to our relations to God, or to secure the practice of righteousness without such reference, or to substitute, with a late champion of unbelief, ‘the service of man’ for the worship of God, are all condemned by the deeper and simpler wisdom of this law. Christians should learn the lesson, which the most Jewish of the New Testament writers had drawn from it, that, ‘pure and undefiled service’ of God is the service of man, and should beware of putting asunder what God has joined so closely.

II. The first commandment bears in its negative form marks of the condition of the world when it was spoken, and of the strong temptation to polytheism which the Israelites were to resist. Everywhere but in that corner among the wild rocks of Sinai, men believed in ‘gods many.’ Egypt swarmed with them; and, no doubt, the purity of Abraham’s faith had been sadly tarnished in his sons. We cannot understand the strange fascination of polytheism. It is a disease of humanity in an earlier stage than ours. But how strong it was and is, all history shows. All these many gods were on amicable terms with one another, and ready to welcome newcomers. But the monotheism, which was here laid at the very foundation of Israel’s national life, parted it by a deep gulf from all the world, and determined its history.

The prohibition has little force for us; but the positive command which underlies it is of eternal force. We should rather think of it as a revelation and an invitation than as a mere command. For what is it but the declaration that at the centre of things is throned, not a rabble of godlings, nor a stony impersonal somewhat, nor a hypothetical unknowable entity, nor a shadowy abstraction, but a living Person, who can say ‘Me,’ and whom we can call on as ‘Thou,’ and be sure that He hears? No accumulation of finite excellences, however fair, can satisfy the imagination, which feels after one Being, the personal ideal of all perfectness. The understanding needs one ultimate Cause on which it can rest amid the dance of fleeting phenomena; the heart cannot pour out its love to be shared among many. No string of goodly pearls will ever give the merchantman assurance that his quest is complete. Only when human nature finds all in One, and that One a living Person, the Lover and Friend of all souls, does it fold its wings and rest as a bird after long flight.

The first commandment enjoins, or rather blesses us by showing us that we may cherish, supreme affection, worship, trust, self-surrender, aspiration, towards one God. After all, our God is that which we think most precious, for which we are ready to make the greatest sacrifices, which draws our warmest love; which, lost, would leave us desolate; which, possessed, makes us blessed. If we search our hearts with this ‘candle of the Lord,’ we shall find many an idol set up in their dark corners, and be startled to discover how much we need to bring ourselves to be judged and condemned by this commandment It is the foundation of all human duty. Obedience to it is the condition of peace and blessedness, light and leading for mind, heart, will, affections, desires, hopes, fears, and all the world within, that longs for one living Person even when it least knows the meaning of its longings and the reason of its unrest.

III. The second commandment forbids all representations, whether of the one God or of false deities. The golden calf, which was a symbol of Jehovah, is condemned equally with the fair forms that haunted the Greek Olympus, or the half-bestial shapes of Egyptian mythology. The reasons for the prohibition may be considered as two,-the impossibility of setting forth the glory of the Infinite Spirit in any form, and the certainty that the attempt will sink the worshipper deeper in the mire of sense. An image degrades God and damages men. By it religion reverses its nature, and becomes another clog to keep the soul among the things seen, and an ally of all fleshly inclinations. We know how idolatry seemed to cast a spell over the Israelites from Egypt to Babylon, and how their first relapse into it took place almost before the voice which ‘spake all these words’ had ceased.

In its grosser form, we have no temptation to it. But there are other ways of breaking the commandment than setting up an image. All sensuous worship in which the treacherous aid of art is called in to elevate the soul, comes perilously near to contradicting its spirit, if not its letter. The attempt to make of the senses a ladder for the soul to climb to God by, is a great deal more likely to end in the soul’s going down the ladder than up it. The history of public worship in the Christian Church teaches that the less it has to do with such slippery help the better. There is a strong current running in England, at all events, in the direction of bringing in a more artistic, or, as it is called, a ‘less bare,’ form of service. We need to remember that the God who is a Spirit is worshipped ‘in spirit,’ and that outward forms may easily choke, and outward aids hinder, that worship.

The especial difficulty of obedience to this commandment is marked by the reason or sanction annexed. That opens a wide field, on which it would be folly to venture here. There is a glimpse of God’s character, and a statement of a law of His working. He is a ‘jealous’ God, We need not be afraid of the word. It means nothing but what is congruous with the loftiest conception of a loving God. It means that He allows of no rival in our hearts’ affection, or in our submission for love’s sake to Him. A half trust in God is no trust. How can worship be shared, or love be parted out, among a pantheon? Our poor hearts ask of one another and get from one another, wherever a man and a woman truly love, just what God asks,-’All in all, or not at all.’ His jealousy is but infinite love seeking to be known as such, and asking for a whole heart.

The law of His providence sounds hard, but it is nothing more than stating in plain words the course of the world’s history, which cannot be otherwise if there is to be any bond of human society at all. We hear a great deal in modern language about solidarity {and sometimes it is spelled with a final ‘e,’ to look more philosophical} and heredity. The teaching of this commandment is simply a statement of the same facts, with the addition that the Lawgiver is visible behind the law. The consequences of conduct do not die with the doers. ‘The evil that men do, lives after them.’ The generations are so knit together, and the full results of deeds are often so slow-growing, that one generation sows and another reaps. Who sowed the seed that fruited in misery, and was gathered in a bitter harvest of horrors and crimes in the French Revolution? Who planted the tree under which the citizens of the United States sit? Did not the seedling go over in the Mayflower? As long as the generations of men are more closely connected than those of sheep or birds, this solemn word must be true. Let us see that we sow no tares to poison our children when we are in our graves. The saying had immediate application to the consequences of idolatry in the history of Israel, and was a forecast of their future. But it is true evermore and everywhere.

IV. The third commandment must be so understood as to bring it into line with the two preceding, as of equal breadth and equally fundamental. It cannot, therefore, be confined to the use of the name of God in oaths, whether false or trivial. No doubt, perjury and profane swearing are included in the sweep of the prohibition; but it reaches far beyond them. The name of God is the declaration of His being and character. We take His name ‘in vain’ when we speak of Him unworthily. Many a glib and formal prayer, many a mechanical or self-glorifying sermon, many an erudite controversy, comes under the lash of this prohibition. Professions of devotion far more fervid than real, confessions in which the conscience is not stricken, orthodox teachings with no throb of life in them, unconscious hypocrisies of worship, and much besides, are gibbeted here. The most vain of all words are those which have become traditional stock in trade for religious people, which once expressed deep convictions, and are now a world too wide for the shrunk faith which wears them.

The positive side underlying the negative is the requirement that our speech of God shall fit our thought of God, and our thought of Him shall fit His Name; that our words shall mirror our affections, and our affection be a true reflection of His beauty and sweetness; that cleansed lips shall reverently utter the Name above every name, which, after all speech, must remain unspoken; and that we shall feel it to be not the least wonderful or merciful of His condescensions that He ‘is extolled with our tongues.’

V. The series of commandments referring to Israel’s relations with God is distinctly progressive from the first to the fourth, which deals with the Sabbath. The fact that it appears here, side by side with these absolutely universal and first principles of religion and worship, clearly shows that the giver of the code regarded it as of equal comprehensiveness. If we believe that the giver of the code was God, we seem shut up to the conclusion that, though the Sabbath is a positive institution, and in so far unlike the preceding commandments, it is to be taken as not merely a temporary or Jewish ordinance. The ground on which it is rested here points to the same conclusion. The version of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy bases it on the Egyptian deliverance, but this, on the divine rest after creation. As we have already said, we do not regard the Decalogue as binding on us because given to Israel; but we do regard it as containing laws universally binding, which are written by God’s finger, not on tables of stone, but on ‘the fleshly tables of the heart.’ All the others are admittedly of this nature. Is not the Sabbath law likewise? It is not, indeed, inscribed on the conscience, but is the need for it not stamped on the physical nature? The human organism requires the seventh-day rest, whether men toil with hand or brain. Historically, it is not true that the Sabbath was founded by this legislation. The traces of its observance in Genesis are few and doubtful; but we know from the inscriptions that the seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth days of the moon were set apart by the Assyrians, and scholars can supply other instances. The ‘Remember’ of this commandment can scarcely be urged as establishing this, for it may quite as naturally be explained to mean ‘Remember, as each successive seventh day comes round, to consecrate it.’ But apart from that, the law written on body, mind, and soul says plainly to all men, ‘Rest on the seventh day.’ Body and mind need repose; the soul needs quiet communion with God. No vigorous physical, intellectual, or religious life will long be kept up, if that need be disregarded. The week was meant to be given to work, which is blessed and right if done after the pattern of God’s. The Sabbath was meant to lift to a share in His rest, to bring eternity into time, to renew wasted strength ‘by a wise passiveness,’ and to draw hearts dissipated by contact with fleeting tasks back into the stillness where they can find themselves in fellowship with God.

We have not the Jewish Sabbath, nor is it binding on us. But as men we ought to rest, and resting, to worship, on one day in the week. The unwritten law of Christianity, moulding all outward forms by its own free spirit, gradually, and without premeditation, slid from the seventh to the first day, as it had clear right to do. It was the day of Christ’s resurrection, probably of His ascension, and of Pentecost. It is ‘the Lord’s Day.’ In observing it, we unite both the reasons for the Sabbath given in Exodus and Deuteronomy,-the completion of a higher creation in the resurrection rest of the Son of God, and the deliverance from a sorer bondage by a better Moses. The Christian Sunday and its religious observance are indispensable to the religious life of individuals and nations. The day of rest is indispensable to their well-being. Our hard-working millions will bitterly rue their folly, if they are tempted to cast it away on the plea of obtaining opportunities for intellectual culture and enjoyment. It is

‘The couch of time, care’s balm and bay,’

and we shall be wise if we hold fast by it; not because the Jews were bid to hallow the seventh day, but because we need it for repose, and we need it for religion.

Exodus 20:1. God spake all these words — The law of the ten commandments is a law of God’s making, and a law of his own speaking. God has many ways of speaking to the children of men: he speaks by his Spirit, his providences, and our own consciences, his voice in all which we ought carefully to attend to: but he never spake at any time, or upon any occasion, as he spake the ten commandments, which therefore we ought to hear with the more earnest heed. This law God had given to man before; it was written in his heart by nature; but sin had so defaced that writing, that it was necessary to revive the knowledge of it.

20:1,2 God speaks many ways to the children of men; by conscience, by providences, by his voice, to all which we ought carefully to attend; but he never spake at any time so as he spake the TEN COMMANDMENTS. This law God had given to man before; it was written in his heart; but sin so defaced it, that it was necessary to revive the knowledge of it. The law is spiritual, and takes knowledge of the secret thoughts, desires, and dispositions of the heart. Its grand demand is love, without which outward obedience is mere hypocrisy. It requires perfect, unfailing, constant obedience; no law in the world admits disobedience to itself. Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all, Jas 2:10. Whether in the heart or the conduct, in thought, word, or deed, to omit or to vary any thing, is sin, and the wages of sin is death.The Hebrew name which is rendered in our King James Version as the ten commandments occurs in Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 10:4. It literally means "the Ten Words." The Ten Commandments are also called the law, even the commandment Exodus 24:12, the words of the covenant Exodus 34:28, the tables of the covenant Deuteronomy 9:9, the covenant Deuteronomy 4:13, the two tables Deuteronomy 9:10, Deuteronomy 9:17, and, most frequently, the testimony (e. g. Exodus 16:34; Exodus 25:16), or the two tables of the testimony (e. g. Exodus 31:18). In the New Testament they are called simply the commandments (e. g. Matthew 19:17). The name decalogue is found first in Clement of Alexandria, and was commonly used by the Fathers who followed him.

Thus we know that the tables were two, and that the commandments were ten, in number. But the Scriptures do not, by any direct statements, enable us to determine with precision how the Ten Commandments are severally to be made out, nor how they are to be allotted to the Two tables. On each of these points various opinions have been held (see Exodus 20:12).

Of the Words of Yahweh engraven on the tables of Stone, we have two distinct statements, one in Exodus Exo. 20:1-17 and one in Deuteronomy Deu 5:7-21, apparently of equal authority, but differing principally from each other in the fourth, the fifth, and the tenth commandments.

It has been supposed that the original commandments were all in the same terse and simple form of expression as appears (both in Exodus and Deuteronomy) in the first, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth, such as would be most suitable for recollection, and that the passages in each copy in which the most important variations are found were comments added when the books were written.

The account of the delivery of them in Exodus 19 and in Exodus 20:18-21 is in accordance with their importance as the recognized basis of the covenant between Yahweh and His ancient people (Exodus 34:27-28; Deuteronomy 4:13; 1 Kings 8:21, etc.), and as the divine testimony against the sinful tendencies in man for all ages. While it is here said that "God spake all these words," and in Deuteronomy 5:4, that He "talked face to face," in the New Testament the giving of the law is spoken of as having been through the ministration of Angels Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2. We can reconcile these contrasts of language by keeping in mind that God is a Spirit, and that He is essentially present in the agents who are performing His will.


Ex 20:1-26. The Ten Commandments.

1. And God spake all these words—The Divine Being Himself was the speaker (De 5:12, 32, 33), in tones so loud as to be heard—so distinct as to be intelligible by the whole multitude standing in the valleys below, amid the most appalling phenomena of agitated nature. Had He been simply addressing rational and intelligent creatures, He would have spoken with the still small voice of persuasion and love. But He was speaking to those who were at the same time fallen and sinful creatures, and a corresponding change was required in the manner of God's procedure, in order to give a suitable impression of the character and sanctions of the law revealed from heaven (Ro 11:5-9).The object of man’s worship, Exodus 20:1,2. The decalogue, Exodus 20:3-17. The people fear, Exodus 20:18. They desire Moses to speak to them, and not God, Exodus 20:19. Moses encourages them, Exodus 20:20. Moses drawing near the darkness, God speaks to him, Exodus 20:21,22. God’s charge about making no other gods, Exodus 20:23. God’s command to build an altar, and of what they should make it, Exodus 20:24,25; and in what manner they should approach unto it, Exodus 20:26.

Or, Then, to wit, when Moses was returned into the mount.

God spake immediately, and not by an angel. For though an ambassador or messenger may act in the name of his master, yet it is against the use of all ages and places for such to call themselves by his name. As well might an ambassador of France say, I am the king of France, which all men would account absurd, arrogant, and ridiculous, as an angel might say,

I am the Lord. All these words, i.e. commands, for so the word is used, Deu 17:19 Esther 1:12.

And God spake all these words,.... Which follow, commonly called the decalogue, or ten commands; a system or body of laws, selected and adapted to the case and circumstances of the people of Israel; striking at such sins as they were most addicted to, and they were under the greatest temptation of falling into the commission of; to prevent which, the observation of these laws was enjoined them; not but that whatsoever of them is of a moral nature, as for the most part they are, are binding on all mankind, and to be observed both by Jew and Gentile; and are the best and shortest compendium of morality that ever was delivered out, except the abridgment of them by our Lord, Matthew 22:36, the ancient Jews had a notion, and which Jarchi delivers as his own, that these words were spoken by God in one word; which is not to be understood grammatically; but that those laws are so closely compacted and united together as if they were but one word, and are not to be detached and separated from each other; hence, as the Apostle James says, whosoever offends in one point is guilty of all, James 2:10, and if this notion was as early as the first times of the Gospel, one would be tempted to think the Apostle Paul had reference to it, Romans 13:9 though indeed he seems to have respect only to the second table of the law; these words were spoke in an authoritative way as commands, requiring not only attention but obedience to them; and they were spoken by God himself in the hearing of all the people of Israel; and were not, as Aben Ezra observes, spoken by a mediator or middle person, for as yet they had not desired one; nor by an angel or angels, as the following words show, though the law is said to be spoken by angels, to be ordained by them, in the hands of a mediator, and given by the disposition of them, which perhaps was afterwards done, see Acts 7:53. See Gill on Acts 7:53. See Gill on Galatians 3:19. See Gill on Hebrews 2:2.

saying; as follows.

And God {a} spake all these words, saying,

(a) When Moses and Aaron were gone up, or had passed the bounds of the people, God spoke thus out of the mount Horeb, that all the people heard.

1. The Ten Words: Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 10:4; and probably (see the note Exodus 34:28.

The Greek equivalent, ‘Decalogue’ (ἡ δεκάλογος), is used first be Clem. Al. [Paedag. iii. 89 al.).

1. And God spake, &c.] the sequel in E to Exodus 19:19.

Verses 1-17. - THE DELIVERY OF THE MORAL LAW. Every necessary preparation had now been made. The priests, as well as the people, had "sanctified themselves." A wholesome dread of "breaking" through the fence, and "touching" the mount, had spread itself among the people Moses had returned from the camp to the summit of the mount; and both he and the people were attent to hear the words of the "covenant," which had been announced to them (Exodus 19:5). Then, amid the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the smoke, and the earthquake throbs which shook the ground, a voice like that of a man, distinctly articulate, pronounced the words of that "moral law," which has been from that day to this the guide of life to thousands upon thousands, the only guide to some, a very valuable and helpful guide to all who have known of it. It is well said by Kalisch, that the delivery of the Decalogue on Sinai "formed a decisive epoch in the history of the human race," and was even perhaps "the greatest and most important event in haman history," up to the time of its occurrence. Considering the weakness, imperfection, and moral obliquity of man, it was to the last degree important that an authoritative code should be put forth, laying down with unmistakable clearness the chief heads of duty, and denouncing the chief classes of sins. It may be true that the educated moral sense of mankind in civilised communities is sufficient to teach them all, or nearly all, of what the Decalogue forbids and enjoins; but this is the effect produced upon the internal constitution of our nature by long centuries of moral training; and nothing like it existed in primitive times. Then the moral sense was much duller; men's perceptions of right and wrong were confused, uncertain, and not unfrequently perverted and depraved. Even in Egypt, where a priest class, established as the spiritual guides of the nation for a thousand years or more, had elaborated a moral system of considerable merit, such a code as that of the Decalogue would have been a marked improvement upon anything that they had worked out for themselves. And the authoritative sanction by the "voice" and the "finger of God" was an enormous advantage, being imperatively needed to satisfy doubt, and silence that perverse casuistry which is always ready to question the off-hand decisions of the moral consciousness, and to invent a more refined system, wherein "bitter is put for sweet, and sweet for bitter." Altogether the Decalogue stands on a moral eminence, elevated above and beyond all other moral systems - Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, or Greek, unequalled for simplicity, for comprehensiveness, for solemnity. Its precepts were, according to the Jewish tradition, "the pillars of the law and its roots." They formed to the nation to which they were given "tons omnis, publici privatique juris." They constitute for all time a condensed summary of human duty which bears divinity upon its face, which is suited for every form of human society, and which, so long as the world endures, cannot become antiquated. The retention of the Decalogue as the best summary of the moral law by Christian communities is justified on these grounds, and itself furnishes emphatic testimony to the excellency of the compendium. Verse 1. - God spake all these words. It has been suggested that Moses derived the Decalogue from Egypt, by summarising the chief points of the Egyptian teaching as to the duty of man. But neither the second, nor the fourth, nor the tenth commandment came within the Egyptian ideas of moral duty; nor was any such compendious form as the Decalogue known in Egypt. Moreover, Egyptian morality was minute and complex, rather than grand and simple. Forty-two kinds of sin were denied by the departed soul before Osiris and his assessors. The noble utterances of Sinai are wholly unlike anything to be found in the entire range of Egyptian literature. Exodus 20:1And God spake all these words, saying, The promulgation of the ten words of God, containing the fundamental law of the covenant, took place before Moses ascended the mountain again with Aaron (Exodus 19:24). "All these words" are the words of God contained in vv. 2-17, which are repeated again in Deuteronomy 5:6-18, with slight variations that do not materially affect the sense,

(Note: The discrepancies in the two texts are the following: - In Deuteronomy 5:8 the cop. ו ("or," Eng. Ver.), which stands before תּמוּנה כּל (any likeness), is omitted, to give greater clearness to the meaning; and on the other hand it is added before שׁלּשׁים על in Deuteronomy 5:9 for rhetorical reasons. In the fourth commandment (Deuteronomy 5:12) שׁמור is chosen instead of זכור in Exodus 20:8, and זכר is reserved fore the hortatory clause appended in Deuteronomy 5:15 : "and remember that thou wast a servant," etc.; and with this is connected the still further fact, that instead of the fourth commandment being enforced on the ground of the creation of the world in six days and the resting of God on the seventh day, their deliverance from Egypt is adduced as the subjective reason for their observance of the command. In Deuteronomy 5:14, too, the clause "nor thy cattle" (Exodus 20:10) is amplified rhetorically, and particularized in the words "thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle." So again, in Deuteronomy 5:16, the promise appended to the fifth commandment, "that thy days may be long in the land," etc., is amplified by the interpolation of the clause "and that it may go well with thee," and strengthened by the words "as Jehovah thy God hath commanded thee." In Deuteronomy 5:17, instead of שׁקר עד (Exodus 20:16), the more comprehensive expression שׁוא עד is chosen. Again, in the tenth commandment (Deuteronomy 5:18), the "neighbour's wife" is placed first, and then, after the "house," the field is added before the "man-servant and maid-servant," whereas in Exodus the "neighbour's house" is mentioned first, and then the "wife" along with the "man-servant and maid-servant;" and instead of the repetition of תּחמד, the synonym תּתאוּה is employed. Lastly, in Deuteronomy all the commandments from תּרצח לא onwards are connected together by the repetition of the cop. ו before every one, whereas in Exodus it is not introduced at all. - Now if, after what has been said, the rhetorical and hortatory intention is patent in all the variations of the text of Deuteronomy, even down to the transposition of wife and house in the last commandment, this transposition must also be attributed to the freedom with which the decalogue was reproduced, and the text of Exodus be accepted as the original, which is not to be altered in the interests of any arbitrary exposition of the commandments.)

and are called the "words of the covenant, the ten words," in Exodus 34:28, and Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 10:4. God spake these words directly to the people, and not "through the medium of His finite spirits," as v. Hoffmann, Kurtz, and others suppose. There is not a word in the Old Testament about any such mediation. Not only was it Elohim, according to the chapter before us, who spake these words to the people, and called Himself Jehovah, who had brought Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 20:2), but according to Deuteronomy 5:4, Jehovah spake these words to Israel "face to face, in the mount, out of the midst of the fire."

Hence, according to Buxtorf (Dissert. de Decalogo in genere, 1642), the Jewish commentators almost unanimously affirm that God Himself spake the words of the decalogue, and that words were formed in the air by the power of God, and not by the intervention and ministry of angels.

(Note: This also applies to the Targums. Onkelos and Jonathan have יי וּמלל in Exodus 20:1, and the Jerusalem Targum דיי מימרא מליל. But in the popular Jewish Midrash, the statement in Deuteronomy 33:2 (cf. Psalm 68:17), that Jehovah came down upon Sinai "out of myriads of His holiness," i.e., attended by myriads of holy angels, seems to have given rise to the notion that God spake through angels. Thus Josephus represents King Herod as saying to the people, "For ourselves, we have learned from God the most excellent of our doctrines, and the most holy part of our law through angels" (Ant. 15, 5, 3, Whiston's translation).)

And even from the New Testament this cannot be proved to be a doctrine of the Scriptures. For when Stephen says to the Jews, in Acts 7:53, "Ye have received the law" εἰς διαταγὰς ἀγγέλων (Eng. Ver. "by the disposition of angels"), and Paul speaks of the law in Galatians 3:19 as διαταγεὶς δι ̓ἀγγελων ("ordained by angels"), these expressions leave it quite uncertain in what the διατάσσειν of the angels consisted, or what part they took in connection with the giving of the law.

(Note: That Stephen cannot have meant to say that God spoke through a number of finite angels, is evident from the fact, that in Acts 7:38 he had spoken just before of the Angel (in the singular) who spoke to Moses upon Mount Sinai, and had described him in Acts 7:35 and Acts 7:30 as the Angel who appeared to Moses in the bush, i.e., as no other than the Angel of Jehovah who was identical with Jehovah. "The Angel of the Lord occupies the same place in Acts 7:38 as Jehovah in Exodus 19. The angels in Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19 are taken from Deuteronomy 33. And there the angels do not come in the place of the Lord, but the Lord comes attended by them" (Hengstenberg).)

So again, in Hebrews 2:2, where the law, "the word spoken by angels" (δι ̓ἀγγελων), is placed in contrast with the "salvation which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord" (διὰ τοῦ Κυρίου), the antithesis is of so indefinite a nature that it is impossible to draw the conclusion with any certainty, that the writer of this epistle supposed the speaking of God at the promulgation of the decalogue to have been effected through the medium of a number of finite spirits, especially when we consider that in the Epistle to the Hebrews speaking is the term applied to the divine revelation generally (see Exodus 1:1). As his object was not to describe with precision the manner in which God spake to the Israelites from Sinai, but only to show the superiority of the Gospel, as the revelation of salvation, to the revelation of the law; he was at liberty to select the indefinite expression δι ̓ἀγγελων, and leaven it to the readers of his epistle to interpret it more fully for themselves from the Old Testament. According to the Old Testament, however, the law was given through the medium of angels, only so far as God appeared to Moses, as He had done to the patriarchs, in the form of the "Angel of the Lord," and Jehovah came down upon Sinai, according to Deuteronomy 33:2, surrounded by myriads of holy angels as His escort.

(Note: Lud. de Dieu, in his commentary on Acts 7:53, after citing the parallel passages Galatians 3:19 and Hebrews 2:2, correctly observes, that "horum dictorum haec videtur esse ratio et veritas. S. Stephanus supra 5:39 dixit, Angelum locutum esse cum Mose in monte Sina, eundem nempe qui in rubo ipsa apparuerat, v. 35 qui quamvis in se Deus hic tamen κατ ̓οἰκονομίαν tanquam Angelus Deit caeterorumque angelorum praefectus consideratus e medio angelorum, qui eum undique stipabant, legem i monte Mosi dedit.... Atque inde colligi potest causa, cur apostolus Hebrews 2:2-3, Legi Evnagelium tantopere anteferat. Etsi enim utriusque auctor et promulgator fuerit idem Dei filius, quia tamen legem tulit in forma angeli e senatu angelico et velatus gloria angelorum, tandem vero caro factus et in carne manifestatus, gloriam prae se ferens non angelorum sed unigeniti filii Dei, evangelium ipsemet, humana voce, habitans inter homines praedicavit, merito lex angelorum sermo, evangelium autem solius filii Dei dicitur.")

The notion that God spake through the medium of "His finite spirits" can only be sustained in one of two ways: either by reducing the angels to personifications of natural phenomena, such as thunder, lightning, and the sound of a trumpet, a process against which the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews enters his protest in Exodus 12:19, where he expressly distinguishes the "voice of words" from these phenomena of nature; or else by affirming, with v. Hoffmann, that God, the supernatural, cannot be conceived of without a plurality of spirits collected under Him, or apart from His active operation in the world of bodies, in distinction from which these spirits are comprehended with Him and under Him, so that even the ordinary and regular phenomena of nature would have to be regarded as the workings of angels; in which case the existence of angels as created spirits would be called in question, and they would be reduced to mere personifications of divine powers.

The words of the covenant, or ten words, were written by God upon two tables of stone (Exodus 31:18), and are called the law and the commandment (והמּצוה התּורה) in Exodus 24:12, as being the kernel and essence of the law. But the Bible contains neither distinct statements, nor definite hints, with reference to the numbering and division of the commandments upon the two tables, - a clear proof that these points do not possess the importance which has frequently been attributed to them. The different views have arisen in the course of time. Some divide the ten commandments into two pentads, one upon each table. Upon the first they place the commandments concerning (1) other gods, (2) images, (3) the name of God, (4) the Sabbath, and (5) parents; on the second, those concerning (1) murder, (2) adultery, (3) stealing, (4) false witness, and (5) coveting. Others, again, reckon only three to the first table, and seven to the second. In the first they include the commandments respecting (1) other gods, (2) the name of God, (3) the Sabbath, or those which concern the duties towards God; and in the second, those respecting (1) parents, (2) murder, (3) adultery, (4) stealing, (5) false witness, (6) coveting a neighbour's house, (7) coveting a neighbour's wife, servants, cattle, and other possession, or those which concern the duties towards one's neighbour. The first view, with the division into two fives, we find in Josephus (Ant. iii. 5, 5) and Philo (quis rer. divin. haer. 35, de Decal. 12, etc.); it is unanimously supported by the fathers of the first four centuries,

(Note: They either speak of two tables with five commandments upon each (Iren. adv. haer. ii. 42), or mention only one commandment against coveting (Constit. apost. i. 1, vii. 3; Theoph. ad Autol. ii. 50; Tertull, adv. Marc. ii. 17; Ephr. Syr. ad Exodus 20; Epiphan. haer. ii. 2, etc.), or else they expressly distinguish the commandment against images from that against other gods (Origen, homil. 8 in Ex.; Hieron. ad Ephes. vi. 2; Greg. Naz. carm. i. 1; Sulpicius Sev. hist. sacr. i. 17, etc.).)

and has been retained to the present day by the Eastern and Reformed Churches. The later Jews agree so far with this view, that they only adopt one commandment against coveting; but they differ from it in combining the commandment against images with that against false gods, and taking the introductory words "I am the Lord thy God" to be the first commandment. This mode of numbering, of which we find the first traces in Julian Apostata (in Cyrilli Alex. c. Julian l. V. init.), and in an allusion made by Jerome (on Hosea 10:10), is at any rate of more recent origin, and probably arose simply from opposition to the Christians. It still prevails, however, among the modern Jews.

(Note: It is adopted by Gemar. Macc. f. 24 a; Targ. Jon. on Ex. and Deut.; Mechilta on Exodus 20:15; Pesikta on Deuteronomy 5:6; and the rabbinical commentators of the middle ages.)


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