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The ten commandments and other rules: Exodus 20–23:19

God’s started His instruction for how the people should live. He spoke with the people directly “with a loud voice from the heart of the fire” (Deut. 5:22) and began with the summary: the ten commandments.

  • relationship with God (serve God only, no idols, no blaspheming, and keep the Sabbath)
  • relationship with family (honour your mother and father, no adultery)
  • relationship with each other (don’t murder, covet, steal, or lie).

The very idea of speaking with God directly frightened the people, and they asked Moses to talk to God on their behalf:

Deut. 5:24-27  The Lord our God has shown us his glory and his majesty,and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a person can live even if God speaks with them. But now … we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer. … Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey.

Through Moses, God then handed out the first regulations and some harsh penalties for breaking them. These focus on how people should treat each other, and they limit retribution for wrongdoing to ‘an eye for an eye’ and a ‘life for a life’ (rather than a life for an eye).

The reasoning is direct:

20:2 I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.

These chapters also introduced the idea that God does not approve of slavery.

These introductory regulations end with the commandment:

23:13 Pay close attention to all my instructions. You must not call on the name of any other gods. Do not even speak their names.

… before describing how the Israelities should celebrate the first three of their festivals: the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of [first] Harvest, and the Festival of the Final Harvest.