The Ten Words
Exodus 20:1-17 are the “Ten Words” (see Exodus 34:28;Deut.4:13;10:4) which the finger of God originally wrote on two tablets, but which, because of the Golden Calf incident (Ex. 32) had to be rewritten by Moses (Exodus 34:28).
These “Ten Words” are supposed to function like the covenant reminders in the ancient near east. A king enters into a covenant with a chieftain and as a reminder, the king makes a list of the tribute that the chieftain has to give him as a sign of his good intent. The tribute may take the form of men for the king’s army, an annual tribute of grain or whatever the chieftain can guarantee. Failure to make good the yearly tribute would be an indication that the covenant with the king is not taken seriously. The “Ten Words” of the Lord on Sinai is the tribute he requires for His Covenant. Notice that three commandments are directed to Him, while the seven others are for the fellow Israelite, beginning with “Honor your father and your mother”. Three for God, and seven for man. If the Israelites keep this commandments, they would have an idyllic society and a reason for the other nations to praise their wisdom (Deuteronomy 4:6). History will prove however that Israel was not faithful to the covenant (see Hosea 4:1-4) so that God will have to contract a new covenant in which He will write his will in the hearts of men (Jeremiah 31:31).
Resources about the Ten Commandments on the Web
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Ten Commandments
- Catechism of the Catholic Church: Ten Commandments (Exodus and Deuteronomy texts in parallel)
- Hebrew for Christians: The Ten Commandments
- WikiPedia: Ten Commandments
- Britannica Online: Ten Commandments (text in RSV)
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