Exodus 20:22
And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
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(22-26) In the remainder of Exodus 20, and in the three chapters which follow, we have a series of laws delivered by God to Moses, immediately after the delivery of the Decalogue, which constituted the second stage of the revelation, and stood midway between the first great enunciation of abstract principles in the Ten Commandments and the ultimate minute and complicated elaboration of rules to meet all cases which fills the three Books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This intermediate revelation appears to have been at once committed to writing, and in its written shape was known as “the Book of the Covenant “ (Exodus 24:7), and regarded with special veneration.

“The Book of the Covenant” is wanting in system and arrangement, but is not wholly unsystematic. It commences with some laws concerning the worship of God (Exodus 20:22-26), proceeds from the Divine to the human, and treats in its second section (Exodus 21:1-32) of “the rights of persons,” then concerns itself with “the rights of property” (Exodus 21:33 to Exodus 22:15), and, finally, winds up with “miscellaneous laws” (Exodus 22:16 to Exodus 23:19), partly on things Divine, partly on things human—the things Divine being reserved to the last, so that the end of the legislation is in close harmony with the beginning. Altogether, the enactments contained in the short space of three chapters are some seventy; and the “Book of the Covenant” is thus no mere tentative sketch; but a very wonderful condensation of the essence of all the more important matters which Moses afterwards put forth by Divine inspiration in the long space of nearly forty years.


(22) Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.—It was important to identify the giver of the Book of the Covenant with the deliverer of the Ten Commandments, and accordingly this was done in the opening words of the Book.

20:22-26 Moses having entered into the thick darkness, God there spake in his hearing all that follows from hence to the end of chap. 23, which is mostly an exposition of the ten commandments. The laws in these verses relate to God's worship. The Israelites are assured of God's gracious acceptance of their devotions. Under the gospel, men are encouraged to pray every where, and wherever God's people meet in his name to worship him, he will be in the midst of them; there he will come unto them, and will bless them.Nothing could be more appropriate as the commencement of the book of the covenant than these regulations for public worship. The rules for the building of altars must have been old and accepted, and are not inconsistent with the directions for the construction of the altar of the court of the tabernacle, Exodus 27:1-8 (compare Joshua 22:26-28). 22, 23. the Lord said unto Moses—It appears from De 4:14-16, that this injunction was a conclusion drawn from the scene on Sinai—that as no similitude of God was displayed then, they should not attempt to make any visible figure or form of Him. Ye have seen, i.e. heard, as Exodus 20:18. He may use the word seen here, to intimate that this was all they could see of God, to wit, his voice and speech, and that they saw no image of him, as is expressed in a parallel place, and therefore should make no resemblances of him, as it here follows.

From heaven, i.e. from the lower heaven, to wit, the air, or the clouds, which were over the top of mount Sinai, Deu 4:36 Nehemiah 9:13; and so the word heaven is oft understood, as Genesis 1:20 Job 35:11 Psalm 79:2. And so this place may be reconciled with Hebrews 12:25, where this is said to be spoken upon earth.

And the Lord said unto Moses,.... When Moses was come near the thick darkness where God was:

thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel; at his return unto them, and which he was to deliver in the name of God, and as his words:

ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven; descending from heaven on Mount Sinai in a cloud and fire, he talked with them out of the cloud and fire, and delivered to them with an audible voice the above ten commands; the cloud and fire they saw with their eyes, and the words expressed from thence they heard with their ears; or heaven may mean the air on the top of Sinai, from whence Jehovah spoke.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
22. Thus thou shalt say] Cf. Exodus 19:3.

from heaven] As their position in the Heb. shews, these are the emphatic words in the sentence: their intention is to shew that the Israelites’ God is exalted far above the earth, and that consequently (v. 23) no material gods are to be venerated by them. Cf. Deuteronomy 4:36.

22–26. The collection opens with directions respecting the manner which God is to be worshipped (other directions about religious observances follow in Exodus 22:20; Exodus 22:29-31, Exodus 23:10-19).

Chapters Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33The Book of the Covenant

The ‘Book of the Covenant’ (see Exodus 24:7 in explanation of the name) is the oldest piece of Hebrew legislation that we possess. The laws contained in it are spoken of in Exodus 24:3 as consisting of two elements, the words (or commands) and the judgements: the judgements (see on Exodus 21:1) are the provisions relating to civil and criminal law, prescribing what is to be done when particular cases arise, and comprised in Exodus 21:2 to Exodus 22:17; the words are positive injunctions of moral, religious, and ceremonial law, introduced mostly by Thou shalt or shalt not, and comprised in Exodus 20:23-26, Exodus 22:18 to Exodus 23:19 : Exodus 23:20-33 is a hortatory epilogue, consisting chiefly of promises intended to suggest motives for the observance of the preceding laws. The laws themselves were doubtless taken by E from some already existing source: the ‘judgements’ in Exodus 21:2 to Exodus 22:17 seem to have undergone no alteration of form: but the ‘words’ which follow can hardly be in their original order; moral, religious, and ceremonial injunctions being intermingled sometimes singly, sometimes in groups (see the following summary), without any apparent system (notice also Exodus 23:4 f., evidently interrupting the connexion between vv. 1–3 and 6–8); and in parts (as Exodus 22:21-22; Exo 22:24, Exodus 23:9 b, Exodus 23:23-25 a, Exodus 23:31-33 : see the notes) slight parenetic additions have probably been made by the compiler of J E.

The laws themselves may be grouped as follows:

i. Enactments relating to civil and criminal law:

1. Rights of Hebrew slaves (male and female), Exodus 21:2-11.

2. Capital offences, viz. murder (in distinction from manslaughter), striking or cursing a parent, and man-stealing, Exodus 21:12-17.

3. Penalties for bodily injuries, caused (a) by human beings, Exodus 21:18-27, (b) by animals (a vicious ox, for instance), or neglect of reason able precautions (as leaving a pit open), Exodus 21:28-36.

4. Theft of ox or sheep, and burglary, Exodus 22:1-4.

5. Compensation for damage done by straying cattle [but see note], or fire spreading accidentally to another man’s field, Exodus 22:5-6.

6. Compensation for loss or injury in various cases of deposit or loan, Exodus 22:7-15.

7. Compensation for seduction, Exodus 22:16-17.

ii (a). Regulations relating to worship and religious observances:

1. Prohibition of images, and regulations for the construction of altars, Exodus 20:23-26.

2. Sacrifice to ‘other gods’ to be punished with the ‘ban,’ Exodus 22:20.

3. God not to be reviled, nor a ruler cursed, Exodus 22:28.

4. Firstfruits, and firstborn males (of men, oxen, and sheep), to be given to Jehovah, Exodus 22:29-30.

5. Flesh torn of beasts not to be eaten, Exodus 22:31.

6 & 7. The seventh year to be a fallow year, and the seventh day a day of rest (in each case, for a humanitarian motive), Exodus 23:10-12.

8. God’s commands to be honoured, and ‘other gods’ not to be invoked, Exodus 23:13.

9. The three annual Pilgrimages to be observed (all males to appear before Jehovah at each), Exo Exodus 23:14-17.

10. A festal sacrifice not to be offered with leavened bread, nor its fat to remain unburnt till the following morning, Exodus 23:18.

11. Firstfruits to be brought to the house of Jehovah, Exodus 23:19 a.

12. A kid not to be boiled in its mother’s milk, Exodus 23:19 b.

ii (b). Injunctions of a moral, and, especially, of a humanitarian character:

1. Sorcery and bestiality to be punished with death, Exodus 22:18-19.

2. The ‘sojourner,’ the widow, and the orphan, not to be oppressed, Exodus 22:21-24.

3. Interest not to be taken from the poor, Exodus 22:25.

4. A garment taken in pledge to be returned before sun-down, Exodus 22:26-27.

5. Veracity and impartiality, the duties of a witness, Exodus 23:1-3.

6. An enemy’s beast to be preserved from harm, Exodus 23:4-5.

7. Justice to be administered impartially, and no bribe to be taken, Exodus 23:6-9.

These three groups of laws may have been taken originally from distinct collections. The terse form in which many of the laws in ii (a) and ii (b) are cast resembles that which prevails in Leviticus 19 (H). The regulations respecting worship contained in Exodus 23:10-19, together with the allied ones embedded in Exodus 13:3-7; Exodus 13:11-13, are repeated in Exodus 34:18-26, in the section (Exodus 34:10-26) sometimes called the ‘Little Book of the Covenant,’ with slight verbal differences, and with the addition in Exodus 34:11-17 of more specific injunctions against idolatry (see the synoptic table, pp. 370–2).

The laws contained in the ‘Book of the Covenant’ are, as has been already said, no doubt older than the narrative (E) in which they are incorporated: they represent, to use Cornill’s expression, the ‘consuetudinary law of the early monarchy,’ and include (cf. the notes on tôrâh, p. 162, and mishpâṭ, Exodus 22:1) the formulated decisions which, after having been begun by Moses (Exodus 18:16; cf. p. 161), had gradually accumulated up to that age. The stage of society for which the Code was designed, and the characteristics of the Code itself, are well indicated by W. R. Smith (OTJC.2[180] p. 340 ff). ‘The society contemplated in it is of very simple structure. The basis of life is agricultural. Cattle and agricultural produce are the main elements wealth; and the laws of property deal almost exclusively with them (see Exodus 21:28 to Exodus 22:10). The principles of criminal and civil justice are those still current among the Arabs of the desert, viz. retaliation and pecuniary compensation. Murder is dealt with by the law of blood-revenge; but the innocent man-slayer may seek asylum at God’s altar (cf. 1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:18; 1 Kings 2:29).’ Man-stealing, offences against parents, and witchcraft are also punishable by death. Personal injuries fall mostly, like murder, under the law of retaliation (Exo Exodus 21:24Verses 22-26. - THE BOOK OF THE COVENANT, (chap. 20. ver. 22, to chap. 22. ver. 23). The Decalogue is followed by a series of laws, civil, social, and religious, which occupy the remainder of ch. 20. and the whole of the three following chapters (ch. 21, 22. and 23.). It appears from ch. 24. that these laws, received by Moses on Sinai, immediately after the delivery of the ten commandments, were at once committed to writing and collected into a book, which was known as "the Book of the Covenant" (Exodus 24:7), and was regarded as a specially sacred volume. The document, as it has come down to us, "cannot be regarded as a strictly systematic whole" (Canon Cook): yet still, it is not wholly unsystematic,but aims in some degree at an orderly arrangement. First and foremost are placed the laws which concern the worship of God, which are two in number: -

1. Against idols;

2. Concerning altars (Exodus 20:23-26).

Then follow the laws respecting what our legal writers call "the rights of persons" - which occupy thirty-two verses of ch. 21. and fall under some twenty different heads, beginning with the rights of slaves, and terminating with the compensation to be made for injuries to the person caused by cattle. The third section is upon "the rights of property," and extends from Exodus 21:33, to Exodus 22:15, including some ten or twelve enactments. After this we can only say that the laws are mixed, some being concerned with Divine things (as ch. 22:20, 29, 30; and ch. 23. 10-19): others with human, and these last being of various kinds, all, however, more or less "connected with the civil organization of the state" (Kalisch). In the fourth section the enactments seem to fall under about twenty-five heads. The result is that the "Book of the Covenant" contains, in little more than three chapters, about seventy distinct laws. Verse 22. - Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. The book opened with this reminder, which at once recalled its author and declared its authority. "I, who give these laws, am the same who spake the ten commandments amid the thunders of Sinai. Reverence the laws accordingly." Exodus 20:22The General Form of Divine Worship in Israel. - As Jehovah had spoken to the Israelites from heaven, they were not to make gods of earthly materials, such as silver and gold, by the side of Him, but simply to construct an altar of earth or unhewn stones without steps, for the offering up of His sacrifices at the place where He would reveal Himself. "From heaven" Jehovah came down upon Sinai enveloped in the darkness of a cloud; and thereby He made known to the people that His nature was heavenly, and could not be imitated in any earthly material. "Ye shall not make with Me," place by the side of, or on a par with Me," "gods of silver and gold," - that is to say, idols primarily intended to represent the nature of God, and therefore meant as symbols of Jehovah, but which became false gods from the very fact that they were intended as representations of the purely spiritual God.
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