Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
And God spake all these words, saying,And 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.
The second view was brought forward by Augustine, and no one is known to have supported it previous to him. In his Quaest. 71 on Ex., when treating of the question how the commandments are to be divided ("utrum quatuor sint usque ad praeceptum de Sabbatho, quae ad ipsum Deum pertinent, sex autem reliqua, quorum primum: Honora patrem et matrem, quae ad hominem pertinent: an potius illa tria sint et ipsa septem"), he explains the two different views, and adds, "Mihi tamen videntur congruentius accipi illa tria et ista septem, quoniam Trinitatem videntur illa, quae ad Deum pertinent, insinuare diligentius intuentibus." He then proceeds still further to show that the commandment against images is only a fuller explanation of that against other gods, but that the commandment not to covet is divided into two commandments by the repetition of the words, "Thou shalt not covet," although "concupiscentia uxoris alienae et concupiscentia domus alienae tantum in peccando differant." In this division Augustine generally reckons the commandment against coveting the neighbour's wife as the ninth, according to the text of Deuteronomy; although in several instances he places it after the coveting of the house, according to the text of Exodus. Through the great respect that was felt for Augustine, this division became the usual one in the Western Church; and it was adopted even by Luther and the Lutheran Church, with this difference, however, that both the Catholic and Lutheran Churches regard the commandment not to covet a neighbour's house as the ninth, whilst only a few here and there give the preference, as Augustine does, to the order adopted in Deuteronomy.
Now if we inquire, which of these divisions of the ten commandments is the correct one, there is nothing to warrant either the assumption of the Talmud and the Rabbins, that the words, "I am Jehovah thy God," etc., form the first commandment, or the preference given by Augustine to the text of Deuteronomy. The words, "I am the Lord," etc., contain no independent member of the decalogue, but are merely the preface to the commandments which follow. "Hic sermo nondum sermo mandati est, sed quis sit, qui mandat, ostendit" (Origen, homil. 8 in Ex.). But, as we have already shown, the text of Deuteronomy, in all its deviations from the text of Exodus, can lay no claim to originality. As to the other two views which have obtained a footing in the Church, the historical credentials of priority and majority are not sufficient of themselves to settle the question in favour of the first, which is generally called the Philonian view, from its earliest supporter. It must be decided from the text of the Bible alone. Now in both substance and form this speaks against the Augustinian, Catholic, and Lutheran view, and in favour of the Philonian, or Oriental and Reformed. In substance; for whereas no essential difference can be pointed out in the two clauses which prohibit coveting, so that even Luther has made but one commandment of them in his smaller catechism, there was a very essential difference between the commandment against other gods and that against making an image of God, so far as the Israelites were concerned, as we may see not only from the account of the golden calf at Sinai, but also from the image worship of Gideon (Judges 8:27), Micah (Judges 17:1-13), and Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28.). In form; for the last five commandments differ from the first five, not only in the fact that no reasons are assigned for the former, whereas all the latter are enforced by reasons, in which the expression "Jehovah thy God" occurs every time; but still more in the fact, that in the text of Deuteronomy all the commandments after "Thou shalt do no murder" are connected together by the copula ו, which is repeated before every sentence, and from which we may see that Moses connected the commandments which treat of duties to one's neighbour more closely together, and by thus linking them together showed that they formed the second half of the decalogue.
The weight of this testimony is not counterbalanced by the division into parashoth and the double accentuation of the Masoretic text, viz., by accents both above and below, even if we assume that this was intended in any way to indicate a logical division of the commandments. In the Hebrew MSS and editions of the Bible, the decalogue is divided into ten parashoth, with spaces between them marked either by ס (Setuma) or פ (Phetucha); and whilst the commandments against other gods and images, together with the threat and promise appended to them (Exodus 20:3-6), form one parashah, the commandment against coveting (Exodus 20:14) is divided by a setuma into two. But according to Kennicott (ad Exodus 10:17; Deuteronomy 5:18, and diss. gener. p. 59) this setuma was wanting in 234 of the 694 MSS consulted by him, and in many exact editions of the Bible as well; so that the testimony is not unanimous here.It is no argument against this division into parashoth, that it does not agree either with the Philonian or the rabbinical division of the ten commandments, or with the Masoretic arrangement of the verses and the lower accents which correspond to this. For there can be no doubt that it is older than the Masoretic treatment of the text, though it is by no means original on that account. Even when the Targum on the Song of Sol. (Sol 5:13) says that the tables of stone were written in ten שׁטּים or שׁיטים, i.e., rows or strophes, like the rows of a garden full of sweet odours, this Targum is much too recent to furnish any valid testimony to the original writing and plan of the decalogue. And the upper accentuation of the decalogue, which corresponds to the division into parashoth, has must as little claim to be received as a testimony in favour of "a division of the verses which was once evidently regarded as very significant" (Ewald); on the contrary, it was evidently added to the lower accentuation simply in order that the decalogue might be read in the synagogues on particular days after the parashoth.
(Note: See Geiger (wissensch. Ztschr. iii. 1, 151). According to the testimony of a Rabbin who had embraced Christianity, the decalogue was read in one way, when it occurred as a Sabbath parashah, either in the middle of January or at the beginning of July, and in another way at the feast of Pentecost, as the feast of the giving of the law; the lower accentuation being followed in the former case, and the upper in the latter. We may compare with this the account given in En Israel, fol. 103, Colossians 3, that one form of accentuation was intended for ordinary or private reading, the other for public reading in the synagogue.)
Hence the double accentuation was only so far of importance, as showing that the Masorites regarded the parashoth as sufficiently important, to be retained for reading in the synagogue by a system of accentuation which corresponded to them. But if this division into parashoth had been regarded by the Jews from time immemorial as original, or Mosaic, in its origin; it would be impossible to understand either the rise of other divisions of the decalogue, or the difference between this division and the Masoretic accentuation and arrangement of the verses. From all this so much at any rate is clear, that form a very early period there was a disposition to unite together the two commandments against other gods and images; but assuredly on no other ground than because of the threat and promise with which they are followed, and which must refer, as was correctly assumed, to both commandments. But if these two commandments were classified as one, there was no other way of bringing out the number ten, than to divide the commandment against coveting into two. But as the transposition of the wife and the house in the two texts could not well be reconciled with this, the setuma which separated them in Exodus 20:14 did not meet with universal reception.
Lastly, on the division of the ten covenant words upon the two tables of stone, the text of the Bible contains no other information, than that "the tables were written on both their sides" (Exodus 32:15), from which we may infer with tolerable certainty, what would otherwise have the greatest probability as being the most natural supposition, viz., that the entire contents of the "ten words" were engraved upon the tables, and not merely the ten commandments in the stricter sense, without the accompanying reasons.
(Note: If the whole of the contents stood upon the table, the ten words cannot have been arranged either according to Philo's two pentads, or according to Augustine's division into three and seven; for in either case there would have been far more words upon the first table than upon the second, and, according to Augustine's arrangement, there would have been 131 upon one table, and only 41 upon the other. We obtain a much more suitable result, if the words of Exodus 20:2-7, i.e., the first three commandments according to Philo's reckoning, were engraved upon the one table, and the other seven from the Sabbath commandment onwards upon the other; for in that case there would be 96 words upon the first table and 76 upon the second. If the reasons for the commandments were not written along with them upon the tables, the commandments respecting the name and nature of God, and the keeping of the Sabbath, together with the preamble, which could not possibly be left out, would amount to 73 words in all, the commandment to honour one's parents would contain 5 words, and the rest of the commandments 26.)
But if neither the numbering of the ten commandments nor their arrangement on the two tables was indicated in the law as drawn up for the guidance of the people of Israel, so that it was possible for even the Israelites to come to different conclusions on the subject; the Christian Church has all the more a perfect right to handle these matters with Christian liberty and prudence for the instruction of congregations in the law, from the fact that it is no longer bound to the ten commandments, as a part of the law of Moses, which has been abolished for them through the fulfilment of Christ, but has to receive them for the regulation of its own doctrine and life, simply as being the unchangeable norm of the holy will of God which was fulfilled through Christ.
I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.The Ten Words commenced with a declaration of Jehovah concerning Himself, which served as a practical basis for the obligation on the part of the people to keep the commandments: "I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee," etc. By bringing them out of Egypt, the house of bondage, Jehovah had proved to the Israelites that He was their God. This glorious act, to which Israel owed its existence as an independent nation, was peculiarly fitted, as a distinct and practical manifestation of unmerited divine love, to kindle in the hearts of the people the warmest love in return, and to incite them to keep the commandments. These words are not to be regarded, as Knobel supposes, as either a confession, or the foundation of the whole of the theocratical law, just as Saleucus, Plato, and other lawgivers placed a belief in the existence of the gods at the head of their laws. They were rather the preamble, as Calvin says, by which God prepared the minds of the people for obeying them, and in this sense they were frequently repeated to give emphasis to other laws, sometimes in full, as in Exodus 29:46; Leviticus 19:36; Leviticus 23:43; Leviticus 25:38, Leviticus 25:55; Leviticus 26:13, etc., sometimes in the abridged form, "I am Jehovah your God," as in Leviticus 11:44; Leviticus 18:2, Leviticus 18:4, Leviticus 18:30; Leviticus 19:4, Leviticus 19:10, Leviticus 19:25, Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 19:34; Leviticus 20:7, etc., for which the simple expression, "I am Jehovah," is now and then substituted, as in Leviticus 19:12-13, Leviticus 19:16, Leviticus 19:18, etc.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.The First Word. - "Let there not be to thee (thou shalt have no) other gods פּני על פּן," lit., beyond Me (על as in Genesis 48:22; Psalm 16:2), or in addition to Me (על as in Genesis 31:50; Deuteronomy 19:9), equivalent to πλὴν ἐμοῦ (lxx), "by the side of Me" (Luther). "Before Me," coram me (Vulg., etc.), is incorrect; also against Me, in opposition to Me. (On פּני see Exodus 33:14.) The singular יהיה does not require that we should regard Elohim as an abstract noun in the sense of Deity; and the plural אחרים would not suit this rendering (see Genesis 1:14). The sentence is quite a general one, and not only prohibits polytheism and idolatry, the worship of idols in thought, word, and deed (cf. Deuteronomy 8:11, Deuteronomy 8:17, Deuteronomy 8:19), but also commands the fear, love, and worship of God the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5, Deuteronomy 6:13, Deuteronomy 6:17; Deuteronomy 10:12, Deuteronomy 10:20). Nearly all the commandments are couched in the negative form of prohibition, because they presuppose the existence of sin and evil desires in the human heart.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:The Second Word. - To the prohibition of idolatrous worship there is linked on, as a second word, the prohibition of the worship of images. "After declaring in the first commandment who was the true God, He commanded that He alone should be worshipped; and now He defines what is His lawful worship" (Calvin). "Thou shalt not make to thyself a likeness and any form of that which is in heaven above," etc. עשׂה is construed with a double accusative, so that the literal rendering would be "make, as a likeness and any form, that which is in heaven," etc. פּסל, from פּסל to carve wood or stone, is a figure made of wood or stone, and is used in Judges 17:3. for a figure representing Jehovah, and in other places for figures of heathen deities - of Asherah, for example, in 2 Kings 21:7. תּמוּנה does not signify an image made by man, but a form which is seen by him (Numbers 12:8; Deuteronomy 4:12, Deuteronomy 4:15.; Job 4:16; Psalm 17:15). In Deuteronomy 5:8 (cf. Exodus 4:16) we find כּל־תּמוּנה פּסל "likeness of any form:" so that in this passage also וכל־תּמוּנה is to be taken as in apposition to פּסל, and the ו as vav explic.: "and indeed any form," viz., of Jehovah, not of heathen gods. That the words should be so understood, is demanded by Deuteronomy 4:15., where Moses lays stress upon the command, not to make to themselves an image (פסל) in the form of any sculpture (סמל), and gives this as the reason: "For ye saw no form in the day when Jehovah spake to you at Horeb." This authoritative exposition of the divine prohibition on the part of Moses himself proves undeniably, that פסל and תמונה are to be understood as referring to symbolical representations of Jehovah. And the words which follow also receive their authoritative exposition from Deuteronomy 4:17 and Deuteronomy 4:18. By "that which is in heaven" we are to understand the birds, not the angels, or at the most, according to Deuteronomy 4:19, the stars as well; by "that which is in earth," the cattle, reptiles, and the larger or smaller animals; and by "that which is in the water," fishes and water animals. "Under the earth" is appended to the "water," to express in a pictorial manner the idea of its being lower than the solid ground (cf. Deuteronomy 4:18). It is not only evident from the context that the allusion is not to the making of images generally, but to the construction of figures of God as objects of religious reverence or worship, but this is expressly stated in Exodus 20:5; so that even Calvin observes, that "there is no necessity to refute what some have foolishly imagined, that sculpture and painting of every kind are condemned here." With the same aptness he has just before observed, that "although Moses only speaks of idols, there is no doubt that by implication he condemns all the forms of false worship, which men have invented for themselves."
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;"Thou shalt not pray to them and serve them." (On the form תּעבדם with the o-sound under the guttural, see Ewald, 251d.). השׁתּחוה signifies bending before God in prayer, and invoking His name; עבד, worship by means of sacrifice and religious ceremonies. The suffixes להם and - ם (to them, and them) refer to the things in heaven, etc., which are made into pesel, symbols of Jehovah, as being the principal object of the previous clause, and not to כּל־תּמוּנה פּסל, although פּסל עבד is applied in Psalm 97:7 and 2 Kings 17:41 to a rude idolatrous worship, which identifies the image as the symbol of deity with the deity itself, Still less do they refer to אחרים אלהים in Exodus 20:3.
The threat and promise, which follow in Exodus 20:5 and Exodus 20:6, relate to the first two commandments, and not to the second alone; because both of them, although forbidding two forms of idolatry, viz., idolo-latry and ikono-latry, are combined in a higher unity, by the fact, that whenever Jehovah, the God who cannot be copied because He reveals His spiritual nature in no visible form, is worshipped under some visible image, the glory of the invisible God is changed, or Jehovah changed into a different God from what He really is. Through either form of idolatry, therefore, Israel would break its covenant with Jehovah. For this reason God enforces the two commandments with the solemn declaration: "I, Jehovah thy God, am קנּא אל a jealous God;" i.e., not only ζηλωτής, a zealous avenger of sinners, but ζηλοτύπος, a jealous God, who will not transfer to another the honour that is due to Himself (Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 48:11), nor tolerate the worship of any other god (Exodus 34:14), but who directs the warmth of His anger against those who hate Him (Deuteronomy 6:15), with the same energy with which the warmth of His love (Sol 8:6) embraces those who love Him, except that love in the form of grace reaches much further than wrath. The sin of the fathers He visits (punishes) on the children to the third and fourth generation. שׁלּשׁים third (sc., children) are not grandchildren, but great-grandchildren, and רבּעים the fourth generation. On the other hand He shows mercy to the thousandths, i.e., to the thousandth generation (cf. Deuteronomy 7:9, where דּור לאלף stands for לאלפים). The cardinal number is used here for the ordinal, for which there was no special form in the case of אלף. The words לשׂנאי and לאהבי, in which the punishment and grace are traced to their ultimate foundation, are of great importance to a correct understanding of this utterance of God. The ל before שׂנאי does not take up the genitive with עון again, as Knobel supposes, for no such use of ל can be established from Genesis 7:11; Genesis 16:3; Genesis 14:18; Genesis 41:12, or in fact in any way whatever. In this instance ל signifies "at" or "in relation to;" and לשׂנאי, from its very position, cannot refer to the fathers alone, but to the fathers and children to the third and fourth generation. If it referred to the fathers alone, it would necessarily stand after אבת. וגו לאהבי is to be taken in the same way. God punishes the sin of the fathers in the children to the third and fourth generation in relation to those who hate Him, and shows mercy to the thousandth generation in relation to those who love Him. The human race is a living organism, in which not only sin and wickedness are transmitted, but evil as the curse of the sin and the punishment of the wickedness. As children receive their nature from their parents, or those who beget them, so they have also to bear and atone for their fathers' guilt. This truth forced itself upon the minds even of thoughtful heathen from their own varied experience (cf. Aeschyl. Sept. 744; Eurip. according to Plutarch de sera num. vind. 12, 21; Cicero de nat. deorum 3, 38; and Baumgarten-Crusius, bibl. Theol. p. 208). Yet there is no fate in the divine government of the world, no irresistible necessity in the continuous results of good and evil; but there reigns in the world a righteous and gracious God, who not only restrains the course of His penal judgments, as soon as the sinner is brought to reflection by the punishment and hearkens to the voice of God, but who also forgives the sin and iniquity of those who love Him, keeping mercy to the thousandth generation (Exodus 34:7). The words neither affirm that sinning fathers remain unpunished, nor that the sins of fathers are punished in the children and grandchildren without any fault of their own: they simply say nothing about whether and how the fathers themselves are punished; and, in order to show the dreadful severity of the penal righteousness of God, give prominence to the fact, that punishment is not omitted-that even when, in the long-suffering of God, it is deferred, it is not therefore neglected, but that the children have to bear the sins of their fathers, whenever, for example (as naturally follows from the connection of children with their fathers, and, as Onkelos has added in his paraphrase of the words), "the children fill up the sins of their fathers," so that the descendants suffer punishment for both their own and their forefathers' misdeeds (Leviticus 26:39; Isaiah 65:7; Amos 7:17; Jeremiah 16:11.; Daniel 9:16). But when, on the other hand, the hating ceases, when the children forsake their fathers' evil ways, the warmth of the divine wrath is turned into the warmth of love, and God becomes חסד עשׂה ("showing mercy") to them; and this mercy endures not only to the third and fourth generation, but to the thousandth generation, though only in relation to those who love God, and manifest this love by keeping His commandments. "If God continues for a long time His visitation of sin, He continues to all eternity His manifestation of mercy, and we cannot have a better proof of this than in the history of Israel itself" (Schultz).
(Note: On the visitation of the sins of the fathers upon the children, see also Hengstenberg, Dissertations, vol. ii. p. 446ff.)
And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.The Third Word, "Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain," is closely connected with the former two. Although there is no God beside Jehovah, the absolute One, and His divine essence cannot be seen or conceived of under any form, He had made known the glory of His nature in His name (Exodus 3:14., Exodus 6:2), and this was not to be abused by His people. שׁם נשׁא does not mean to utter the name (נשׁא never has this meaning), but in all the passages in which it has been so rendered it retains its proper meaning, "to take up, life up, raise;" e.g., to take up or raise (begin) a proverb (Numbers 23:7; Job 27:1), to lift up a song (Psalm 81:3), or a prayer (Isaiah 37:4). And it is evident from the parallel in Psalm 24:4, "to lift up his soul to vanity," that it does not mean "to utter" here. שׁוא does not signify a lie (שׁקר), but according to its etymon שׁאה, to be waste, it denotes that which is waste and disorder, hence that which is empty, vain, and nugatory, for which there is no occasion. The word prohibits all employment of the name of God for vain and unworthy objects, and includes not only false swearing, which is condemned in Leviticus 19:12 as a profanation of the name of Jehovah, but trivial swearing in the ordinary intercourse of life, and every use of the name of God in the service of untruth and lying, for imprecation, witchcraft, or conjuring; whereas the true employment of the name of God is confined to "invocation, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving," which proceeds from a pure, believing heart. The natural heart is very liable to transgress this command, and therefore it is solemnly enforced by the threat, "for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless" (leave him unpunished), etc.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.The Fourth Word, "Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy," presupposes an acquaintance with the Sabbath, as the expression "remember" is sufficient to show, but not that the Sabbath had been kept before this. From the history of the creation that had been handed down, Israel must have known, that after God had created the world in six days He rested the seventh day, and by His resting sanctified the day (Genesis 2:3). But hitherto there had been no commandment given to man to sanctify the day. This was given for the first time to Israel at Sinai, after preparation had been made for it by the fact that the manna did not fall on the seventh day of the week (Exodus 16:22). Here therefore the mode of sanctifying it was established for the first time. The seventh day was to be שׁבּי (a festival-keeper, see Exodus 16:23), i.e., a day of rest belonging to the Lord, and to be consecrated to Him by the fact that no work was performed upon it. The command not to do any (כּל) work applied to both man and beast without exception. Those who were to rest are divided into two classes by the omission of the cop. ו before עבדּך (Exodus 20:10): viz., first, free Israelites ("thou") and their children ("thy son and thy daughter"); and secondly, their slaves (man-servant and maid-servant), and cattle (beasts of draught and burden), and their strangers, i.e., foreign labourers who had settled among the Israelites. "Within thy gates" is equivalent to in the cities, towns, and villages of thy land, not in thy houses (cf. Deuteronomy 5:14; Deuteronomy 14:21, etc.). שׁער (a gate) is only applied to the entrances to towns, or large enclosed courts and palaces, never to the entrances into ordinary houses, huts, and tents. מלאכה work (cf. Genesis 2:2), as distinguished from עבדה labour, is not so much a term denoting a lighter kind of labour, as a general and comprehensive term applied to the performance of any task, whether easy or severe. עבדה is the execution of a definite task, whether in field labour (Psalm 104:23) and mechanical employment (Exodus 39:32) on the one hand, or priestly service and the duties connected with worship on the other (Exodus 12:25-26; Numbers 4:47). On the Sabbath (and also on the day of atonement, Leviticus 23:28, Leviticus 23:31) every occupation was to rest; on the other feast-days only laborious occupations (עבדה מלאכת, Leviticus 23:7.), i.e., such occupations as came under the denomination of labour, business, or industrial employment. Consequently, not only were ploughing and reaping (Exodus 34:21), pressing wine and carrying goods (Nehemiah 13:15), bearing burdens (Jeremiah 17:21), carrying on trade (Amos 8:5), and holding markets (Nehemiah 13:15.) prohibited, but collecting manna (Exodus 16:26.), gathering wood (Numbers 15:32.), and kindling fire for the purpose of boiling or baking (Exodus 35:3). The intention of this resting from every occupation on the Sabbath is evident from the foundation upon which the commandment is based in Exodus 20:11, viz., that at the creation of the heaven and the earth Jehovah rested on the seventh day, and therefore blessed the Sabbath-day and hallowed it. This does not imply, however, that "Israel was to follow the Lord by keeping the Sabbath, and, in imitation of His example, to be active where the Lord was active, and rest where the Lord rested; to copy the Lord in accordance with the lofty aim of man, who was created in His likeness, and make the pulsation of the divine life in a certain sense his own" (Schultz). For although a parallel is drawn, between the creation of the world by God in six days and His resting upon the seventh day on the one hand, and the labour of man for six days and his resting upon the seventh on the other; the reason for the keeping of the Sabbath is not to be found in this parallel, but in the fact that God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because He rested upon it. The significance of the Sabbath, therefore, is to be found in God's blessing and sanctifying the seventh day of the week at the creation, i.e., in the fact, that after the work of creation was finished on the seventh day, God blessed and hallowed the created world, filling it with the powers of peace and good belonging to His own blessed rest, and raising it to a participation in the pure light of His holy nature (see Genesis 2:3). For this reason His people Israel were to keep the Sabbath now, not for the purpose of imitating what God had done, and enjoying the blessing of God by thus following God Himself, but that on this day they also might rest from their work; and that all the more, because their work was no longer the work appointed to man at the first, when he was created in the likeness of God, work which did not interrupt his blessedness in God (Genesis 2:15), but that hard labour in the sweat of his brow to which he had been condemned in consequence of the fall. In order therefore that His people might rest from toil so oppressive to both body and soul, and be refreshed, God prescribed the keeping of the Sabbath, that they might thus possess a day for the repose and elevation of their spirits, and a foretaste of the blessedness into which the people of God are at last to enter, the blessedness of the eternal κατάπαυσις ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων αὐτοῦ (Hebrews 4:10), the ἀνάπαυσις ἐκ τῶν κόπων (Revelation 14:13). See my Archaeologie, 77).
But instead of this objective ground for the sabbatical festival, which furnished the true idea of the Sabbath, when Moses recapitulated the decalogue, he adduced only the subjective aspect of rest or refreshing (Deuteronomy 5:14-15), reminding the people, just as in Exodus 23:12, of their bondage in Egypt and their deliverance from it by the strong arm of Jehovah, and then adding, "therefore (that thou mightest remember this deliverance from bondage) Jehovah commanded thee to keep the Sabbath-day." This is not at variance with the reason given in the present verse, but simply gives prominence to a subjective aspect, which was peculiarly adapted to warm the hearts of the people towards the observance of the Sabbath, and to render the Sabbath rest dear to the people, since it served to keep the Israelites constantly in mind of the rest which Jehovah had procured for them from the slave labour of Egypt. For resting from every work is the basis of the observance of the Sabbath; but this observance is an institution peculiar to the Old Testament, and not to be met with in any other nation, though there are many among whom the division of weeks occurs. The observance of the Sabbath, by being adopted into the decalogue, was made the foundation of all the festal times and observances of the Israelites, as they all culminated in the Sabbath rest. At the same time, as an ἐντολὴ τοῦ νόμον, an ingredient in the Sinaitic law, it belonged to the "shadow of (good) things to come" (Colossians 2:17, cf. Hebrews 10:1), which was to be done away when the "body" in Christ had come. Christ is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8), and after the completion of His work, He also rested on the Sabbath. But He rose again on the Sunday; and through His resurrection, which is the pledge to the world of the fruits of His redeeming work, He has made this day the κυριακὴ ἡμέρα (Lord's day) for His Church, to be observed by it till the Captain of its salvation shall return, and having finished the judgment upon all His foes to the very last shall lead it to the rest of that eternal Sabbath, which God prepared for the whole creation through His own resting after the completion of the heaven and the earth.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.The Fifth Word, "Honour thy father and thy mother," does not refer to fellow-men, but to "those who are the representatives (vicarii) of God. Therefore, as God is to be served with honour and fear, His representatives are to be so too" (Luther decem. praec.). This is placed beyond all doubt by Leviticus 19:3, where reverence towards parents is placed on an equality with the observance of the Sabbath, and תּירא (fear) is substituted for כּבּד (honour). It also follows from כּבּד, which, as Calvin correctly observes, nihil aliud est quam Deo et hominibus, qui dignitate pollent, justum honorem deferre. Fellow-men or neighbours (רע) are to be loved (Leviticus 19:18): parents, on the other hand, are to be honoured and feared; reverence is to be shown to them with heart, mouth, and hand - in thought, word, and deed. But by father and mother we are not to understand merely the authors and preservers of our bodily life, but also the founders, protectors, and promoters of our spiritual life, such as prophets and teachers, to whom sometimes the name of father is given (2 Kings 2:12; 2 Kings 13:14), whilst at other times paternity is ascribed to them by their scholars being called sons and daughters (Psalm 34:12; Psalm 45:11; Proverbs 1:8, Proverbs 1:10, Proverbs 1:15, etc.); also the guardians of our bodily and spiritual life, the powers ordained of God, to whom the names of father and mother (Genesis 45:8; Judges 5:7) may justly be applied, since all government has grown out of the relation of father and child, and draws its moral weight and stability, upon which the prosperity and well-being of a nation depends, from the reverence of children towards their parents.
(Note: "In this demand for reverence to parents, the fifth commandment lays the foundation for the sanctification of the whole social life, inasmuch as it thereby teaches us to acknowledge a divine authority in the same" (Oehler, Dekalog, p. 322).)
And the promise, "that thy days may be long (thou mayest live long) in the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee," also points to this. There is a double promise here. So long as the nation rejoiced in the possession of obedient children, it was assured of a long life or existence in the land of Canaan; but there is also included the promise of a long life, i.e., a great age, to individuals (cf. Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 22:7), just as we find in 1 Kings 3:14 a good old age referred to as a special blessing from God. In Deuteronomy 5:16, the promise of long life is followed by the words, "and that it may be well with thee," which do not later the sense, but merely explain it more fully.
As the majesty of God was thus to be honoured and feared in parents, so the image of God was to be kept sacred in all men. This thought forms the transition to the rest of the commandments.
Thou shalt not kill.The other Five Words or commandments, which determine the duties to one's neighbour, are summed up in Leviticus 19:18 in the one word, "Love thy neighbour as thyself." The order in which they follow one another is the following: they first of all secure life, marriage, and property against active invasion or attack, and then, proceeding from deed to word and thought, they forbid false witness and coveting.
(Note: Luther has pointed out this mirum et aptum ordinem, and expounds it thus: Incipit prohibitio a majori usque ad minimum, nam maximum damnum est occisio hominis, deinde proximum violatio conjugis, tertium ablatio facultatis. Quod qui in iis nocere non possunt, saltem lingua nocent, ideo quartum est laesio famae. Quodsi in iis non praevalent omnibus, saltem corde laedunt proximum, cupiendo quae ejus sunt, in quo et invidia proprie consistit.)
If, therefore, the first three commandments in this table refer primarily to deeds; the subsequent advance to the prohibition of desire is a proof that the deed is not to be separated from the disposition, and that "the fulfilment of the law is only complete when the heart itself is sanctified" (Oehler). Accordingly, in the command, "Thou shalt not kill," not only is the accomplished fact of murder condemned, whether it proceed from open violence or stratagem (Exodus 21:12, Exodus 21:14, Exodus 21:18), but every act that endangers human life, whether it arise from carelessness (Deuteronomy 22:8) or wantonness (Leviticus 19:14), or from hatred, anger, and revenge (Leviticus 19:17-18). Life is placed at the head of these commandments, not as being the highest earthly possession, but because it is the basis of human existence, and in the life the personality is attacked, and in that the image of God (Genesis 9:6). The omission of the object still remains to be noticed, as showing that the prohibition includes not only the killing of a fellow-man, but the destruction of one's own life, or suicide. - The two following commandments are couched in equally general terms. Adultery, נאף, which is used in Leviticus 20:10 of both man and woman, signifies (as distinguished from זנה to commit fornication) the sexual intercourse of a husband with the wife of another, or of a wife with the husband of another. This prohibition is not only directed against any assault upon the husband's dearest possession, for the tenth commandment guards against that, but upholds the sacredness of marriage as the divine appointment for the propagation and multiplication of the human race; and although addressed primarily to the man, like all the commandments that were given to the whole nation, applies quite as much to the woman as to the man, just as we find in Leviticus 20:10 that adultery was to be punished with death in the case of both the man and the woman. - Property was to be equally inviolable. The command, "Thou shalt not steal," prohibited not only the secret or open removal of another person's property, but injury done to it, or fraudulent retention of it, through carelessness or indifference (Exodus 21:33; Exodus 22:13; Exodus 23:4-5; Deuteronomy 22:1-4). - But lest these commandments should be understood as relating merely to the outward act as such, as they were by the Pharisees, in opposition to whom Christ set forth their true fulfilment (Matthew 5:21.), God added the further prohibition, "Thou shalt not answer as a false witness against thy neighbour," i.e., give false testimony against him. ענה and בּ: to answer or give evidence against a person (Genesis 30:33). עד is not evidence, but a witness. Instead of שׁקר עד, a witness of a lie, who consciously gives utterance to falsehood, we find שׁוא עד in Deuteronomy, one who says what is vain, worthless, unfounded (שׁוא שׁמע, Exodus 23:1; on שׁוא see Exodus 23:7). From this it is evident, that not only is lying prohibited, but false and unfounded evidence in general; and not only evidence before a judge, but false evidence of every kind, by which (according to the context) the life, married relation, or property of a neighbour might be endangered (cf. Exodus 23:1; Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15; Deuteronomy 22:13.). - The last or tenth commandment is directed against desiring (coveting), as the root from which every sin against a neighbour springs, whether it be in word or deed. The חמד, ἐπιθυμεῖν (lxx), coveting, proceeds from the heart (Proverbs 6:25), and brings forth sin, which "is finished" in the act (James 1:14-15). The repetition of the words, "Thou shalt not covet," does not prove that there are two different commandments, any more than the substitution of תּתאוּה in Deuteronomy 5:18 for the second תּחמד. חמד and התאוּה are synonyms, - the only difference between them being, that "the former denotes the desire as founded upon the perception of beauty, and therefore excited from without, the latter, desire originating at the very outset in the person himself, and arising from his own want or inclination" (Schultz). The repetition merely serves to strengthen and give the great emphasis to that which constitutes the very kernel of the command, and is just as much in harmony with the simple and appropriate language of the law, as the employment of a synonym in the place of the repetition of the same word is with the rhetorical character of Deuteronomy. Moreover, the objects of desire do not point to two different commandments. This is evident at once from the transposition of the house and wife in Deuteronomy. בּית (the house) is not merely the dwelling, but the entire household (as in Genesis 15:2; Job 8:15), either including the wife, or exclusive of her. In the text before us she is included; in Deuteronomy she is not, but is placed first as the crown of the man, and a possession more costly than pearls (Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 31:10). In this case, the idea of the "house" is restricted to the other property belonging to the domestic economy, which is classified in Deuteronomy as fields, servants, cattle, and whatever else a man may have; whereas in Exodus the "house" is divided into wife, servants, cattle, and the rest of the possessions.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.(cf. Deuteronomy 5:19-33). The terrible phenomena, amidst which the Lord displayed His majesty, made the intended impression upon the people who were stationed by the mountain below, so that they desired that God would not speak to them any more, and entreated Moses through their elders to act as mediator between them, promising at the same time that they would hear him (cf. Exodus 19:9, Exodus 19:16-19). ראים, perceiving: ראה to see being frequently used for perceiving, as being the principle sense by which most of the impressions of the outer world are received (e.g., Genesis 42:1; Isaiah 44:16; Jeremiah 33:24). לפּידם, fire-torches, are the vivid flashes of lightning (Exodus 19:16). "They trembled and stood afar off:" not daring to come nearer to the mountain, or to ascend it. "And they said," viz., the heads of the tribes and elders: cf. Deuteronomy 5:20, where the words of the people are more fully given. "Lest we die:" cf. Deuteronomy 5:21-23. Though they had discovered that God speaks with man, and yet man lives; they felt so much that they were בּשׂר, flesh, i.e., powerless, frail, and alienated by sin from the holy God, that they were afraid lest they should be consumed by this great fire, if they listened any longer to the voice of God.
And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.To direct the sinner's holy awe in the presence of the holy God, which was expressed in these words of the people, into the proper course of healthy and enduring penitence, Moses first of all took away the false fear of death by the encouraging answer, "Fear not," and then immediately added, "for God is come to prove you." נסּוּת referred to the testing of the state of the heart in relation to God, as it is explained in the exegetical clause which follows: "that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not." By this terrible display of His glory, God desired to inspire them with the true fear of Himself, that they might not sin through distrust, disobedience, or resistance to His guidance and commands.
And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was."So the people stood afar off" (as in Exodus 20:18), not "went far away," although, according to Deuteronomy 5:30, Moses was directed by God to tell the people to return to their tents. This is passed over here, and it is merely observed, for the purpose of closing the first act in the giving the law, and preparing the way for the second, that the people remained afar off, whereas Moses (and Aaron, cf. Exodus 19:24) drew near to the darkness where God was, to receive the further commands of the Lord.
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.The 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.
Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.
An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.For the worship of Jehovah, the God of heaven, Israel needed only an altar, on which to cause its sacrifices to ascend to God. The altar, as an elevation built up of earth or rough stones, was a symbol of the elevation of man to God, who is enthroned on high in the heaven; and because man was to raise himself to God in his sacrifices, Israel also was to make an altar, though only of earth, or if of stones, not of hewn stones. "For if thou swingest thy tool (חרב lit., sharpness, then any edge tool) over it (over the stone), thou defilest it" (Exodus 20:25). "Of earth:" i.e., not "of comparatively simple materials, such as befitted a representation of the creature" (Schultz on Deuteronomy 12); for the altar was not to represent the creature, but to be the place to which God came to receive man into His fellowship there. For this reason the altar was to be made of the same material, which formed the earthly soil for the kingdom of God, either of earth or else of stones, just as they existed in their natural state; not, however, "because unpolished stones, which retain their true and native condition, appear to be endowed with a certain native purity, and therefore to be most in harmony with the sanctity of an altar" (Spencer de legg. Hebr. rit. lib. ii. c. 6), for the "native purity" of the earth does not agree with Genesis 3:17; but because the altar was to set forth the nature of the simple earthly soil, unaltered by the hand of man. The earth, which has been involved in the curse of sin, is to be renewed and glorified into the kingdom of God, not by sinful men, but by the gracious hand of God alone. Moreover, Israel was not to erect the altar for its sacrifices in any place that it might choose, but only in every place in which Jehovah should bring His name to remembrance. וגו שׁם הזכּיר does not mean "to make the name of the Lord remembered," i.e., to cause men to remember it; but to establish a memorial of His name, i.e., to make a glorious revelation of His divine nature, and thereby to consecrate the place into a holy soil (cf. Exodus 3:5), upon which Jehovah would come to Israel and bless it. Lastly, the command not to go up to the altar by steps (Exodus 20:26) is followed by the words, "that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon." It was in the feeling of shame that the consciousness of sin first manifested itself, and it was in the shame that the sin was chiefly apparent (Genesis 3:7); hence the nakedness was a disclosure of sin, through which the altar of God would be desecrated, and for this reason it was forbidden to ascend to the altar by steps. These directions with reference to the altar to be built do not refer merely to the altar, which was built for the conclusion of the covenant, nor are they at variance with the later instructions respecting the one altar at the tabernacle, upon which all the sacrifices were to be presented (Leviticus 17:8-9; Deuteronomy 12:5.), nor are they merely "provisional" but they lay the foundation for the future laws with reference to the places of worship, though without restricting them to one particular locality on the one hand, or allowing an unlimited number of altars on the other. Hence "several places and altars are referred to here, because, whilst the people were wandering in the desert, there could be no fixed place for the tabernacle" (Riehm). But the erection of the altar is unquestionably limited to every place which Jehovah appointed for the purpose by a revelation. We are not to understand the words, however, as referring merely to those places in which the tabernacle and its altar were erected, and to the site of the future temple (Sinai, Shilloh, and Jerusalem), but to all those places also where altars were built and sacrifices offered on extraordinary occasions, on account of God, - appearing there such, for example, as Ebal (Joshua 8:30 compared with Deuteronomy 27:5), the rock in Ophrah (Judges 6:25-26), and many other places besides.
And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.
Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.