Exodus 20 contains the Ten Commandments and is seen by many to be the centerpiece of the Mosaic Law. It is at least the foundation for all the other laws and statutes found in the Law. They are repeated in Deuteronomy 5 for the succeeding generation of Israelites just prior to entering the Promised Land.

Many other civilizations in the Ancient Near East had law codes, the most famous being the code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian code of law of ancient Mesopotamia (around 1700 B.C). Hammurabi was a despot, a ruler over Babylon who inherited his reign. The black stone stele discovered by archeologists depicts Hammurabi receiving the law from a Babylonian god, presumably intended to depict divine authority having been bestowed upon both the law as well as Hammurabi.

There are similarities. As a general principle God communicates to people in formats that are already familiar. The Mosaic law differs substantially in that there is no attempt to establish Moses as a ruler, with a successive dynasty. The Ten Commandments and following laws clearly establish a system intended to be self-governing, where the people acknowledge God directly and individually as their king, or ruler.

God had already established Himself as the Suzerain (ruler) over Israel when He made the covenant with them. Moses serves as an intermediary, and as a sort of supreme court in the settlement of disputes. But the legislative branch of government is retained by God, and the executive branch is delegated to the people. The people also judge one another, based on jurisprudence of multiple witnesses. The people keep their covenant with God by choosing to treat other Israelites in a loving manner.

The LORD gave the Law of Moses to establish self-governance as a superior way of living, and appointed Israel to serve a priestly function to demonstrate effective living to its neighbors. Naturally, a realm where each person respects and serves others will be a superior place to dwell.

The New Testament mentions the Mosaic Law a number of times. A few examples:

  • The Law is something Christ came to fulfill (Matthew 5:17)
  • The Law is summed up with the phrase “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you” – demonstrating the Law’s intent was to create a culture of self-governance and mutual love and service (Matthew 7:12).
  • This self-governance and mutual service principle as the core reason for the Law is repeated in Romans 13:10, which says “love is the fulfillment of the law”
  • To put in written form what God wrote on the heart/conscience of humanity (Romans 2:15)
  • The Law brings the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20)
  • “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4)
  • The Law is “our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).
  • The Law is perfect, and leads to liberty (James 1:25)

Exodus 20 can be outlined as follows:

  • The Ten Commandments (20:1 – 17)
  • The Peoples’ Reaction (20:18 – 21)
  • The Book of the Covenant Prologue (20:22 – 26)

After the preamble and the prologue (vv. 1–2), the LORD gives Moses the Ten Commandments. They are described in the remaining verses in this section (vv. 3 – 17). They can be split into two parts. The first part, commandments 1 – 5, establish the LORD as the Supreme Ruler, the ultimate authority and Lawgiver. God is the Suzerain of the People. The fifth commandment appoints parents to stand in for God as the authority over children, until they reach an age to relate directly to God.

The last five commandments make up the second part, and set forth what the Suzerain (ruler) over Israel desires: that the Israelites treat one another in a loving and respectful manner. It is interesting to point out that nine of the ten commandments are repeated in the New Testament. This is not a surprise since the New Testament claims on numerous occasions that by walking in faith, or walking in the Spirit, the Law is fulfilled (Romans 8:4;13:8; Galatians 5:14). The only law not included in the New Testament in the form of a command is keeping the Sabbath. However, Jesus endorsed the Sabbath principle, saying that the Sabbath was intended to bless humans, not to be a burden for them (Mark 2:27).

Exodus 20:1-2

The prologue to the giving of the ten “words” identifies the Sovereign and His qualifications for establishing the rules in the covenant.

Exodus 20:3

The 1st commandment prohibits the worship of all other gods.

Exodus 20:4-6

The 2nd commandment bans the manufacture of idols or objects that represent nature to worship. The LORD will judge those who reject Him but reward those who love and obey Him.

Exodus 20:7

In the 3rd commandment, the LORD prohibits the association of God’s holy name to something that is common. He promises that the offender would be punished.

Exodus 20:8-11

The 4th commandment is to keep the sabbath day holy.

Exodus 20:12

The 5th commandment speaks of respecting one’s parents.

Exodus 20:13

The 6th commandment prohibits a person from the immoral taking of another person’s life.

Exodus 20:14

The 7th commandment prohibits sexual intercourse between a married person and another person, married or unmarried.

Exodus 20:15

The 8th commandment protects the private property of each person.

Exodus 20:16

The 9th commandment is to protect a person from harm based on untrue accusations.

Exodus 20:17

The 10th commandment is to not yearn or lust for that which belonged to others.

Exodus 20:18-21

The LORD manifested Himself in thunder, lightning, and smoke. The Israelites looked on in great dread, so much so that they asked Moses to speak to them instead of having the LORD speak to them.

Exodus 20:22-26

Having displayed His holiness in sight of all the people, the LORD then defined the proper format for worship. He prohibited any manufacture of idols representing Him or any other god that they could imagine.