Understanding the Old Testament

The Ten Commandments

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

The famous Ten Commandments are set forth in Exodus 20:1-17. Although Exodus 20 doesn’t refer to them as “the Ten Commandments,” that is what they are called in Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13, and Deuteronomy 10:4.

Modern Judaism, Protestantism, and Roman Catholicism disagree about how the commandments in Exodus 20:1-17 should be partitioned to achieve exactly ten commandments. For example, Roman Catholicism labels the prohibition against murder as Commandment #5, but Judaism and Protestantism label it as #6.

One of the two longest commandments is the prohibition against idolatry—Exodus 20:3-5. God repeatedly emphasized this particular commandment, and warned the Israelites of the dire consequences should they violate it. See for example Deuteronomy 4:25-28 and 8:19-20. Nevertheless, idolatry was a constant problem for the Israelites, beginning not long after God gave them the Ten Commandments.

Moses went back up on Mount Sinai to receive the Law from the Lord, which took awhile. Exodus 24:18 tells us he was there for forty days and forty nights. The people grew impatient and asked Aaron, Moses’ brother, to make a god for them to worship. (Exodus 32:1) So Aaron made them a golden calf, which they proclaimed as their god “who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:4, 8)

Moses and the Lord were understandably upset. Moses was so angry that he broke the tablets on which “the testimony” (presumably, the Ten Commandments) was written. Then he ground the golden calf into dust, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

Question to ponder or discuss: In Exodus 32:9-14, Moses appears to talk God out of destroying the Israelites and beginning over with Moses and his descendants. Do you think God truly “changed His mind,” as Exodus 32:14 says, or was He merely testing—and perhaps teaching—Moses?

Copyright 2017 by Don Davidson

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