The version of the Ten Commandments most people are familiar with are not the actual Biblical Ten Commandments. In a previous study, we saw how the popular version of the Ten Commandments had some rather barbaric punishments associated with them. In this study we will investigate the actual, Biblical Ten Commandments, discussing why they are the more legitimate version.
Prior to the time of this study, in Exodus 32 God had almost annihilated the Israelites for worshiping a golden calf. Then, in Exodus 33, God tells Moses that He will not go with the Israelites any more and will send them an angel instead. After camping out with God and chatting face to face like friends, Moses convinces God to change His mind to come along with the Israelites Himself. Finally, in a rather bizarre episode, God does a “fly by” and shows Moses His glory, but not His face (because God would have had to kill him if he saw God's face).
The Biblical Ten Commandments
An easy way to embarrass many Christians is to ask them to list the Ten Commandments. Every so often, you will find one who can recite the entire popular version. If so, ask them: “What about the commandment prohibiting cooking of a young goat in its mother's milk?” And if you get a coherent response, then you will know that you are dealing with a rare species: a Christian who has studied the Old Testament.
The term “the Ten Commandments” does not show up in the Bible until Exodus 34:28. Yet Exodus 20 is where the popular version of the Ten Commandments reside. Within Exodus 34, there are (coincidentally) Ten Commandments which have little correlation with the popular version.
But before we move into the Biblical Ten Commandments, there is a critical stop to make in Exodus 34 just prior to the little-known list. This stop is to see how God, in a rather pompous and humorous display, brags about Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:5-7:
Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with [Moses] and proclaimed His name, the LORD. And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." NIVFar from the humble image of Jesus, here we see an egotistical God parading in front of Moses while calling out His own name and describing Himself in what He thinks are His best qualities.
It is interesting to see that God describes Himself as being “slow to anger” because you would be hard-pressed to find an example anywhere so far in the Bible. For example, a little while ago God became instantly enraged to the point where He wanted to kill all of the Israelites for worshiping a golden calf; an action which showcased God's quick, fiery temper and tendency not to forgive sin. God changed His mind only after Moses calmed Him down with logical reasoning.
The last sentence is the most revealing about God's Plan. God does not leave the guilty unpunished, but will punish several generations for the sins of a guilty father. This verse is contrived as justice for when wicked people manage to prosper and live comfortably all of their lives. God is essentially saying that justice will be served by punishing the guilty party's offspring in cases where the actual guilty party was not punished. In a time when family inheritance meant everything, this probably seemed fair. However, in our modern eyes, it assigns punishment to the innocent. And furthermore, it suggests that there is no afterlife or final judgement where such wicked people would truly be recompensed.
The Biblical Ten Commandments are issued in Exodus 34:10-28. There you will find the following:
- Be intolerant to the people in the Promised Land, and their religions. (Exodus 34:12-15)
- Do not make cast idols. (Exodus 34:17)
- Observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread. (Exodus 34:18)
- Sacrifice or redeem all firstborn males; livestock and people. (Exodus 34:19-20)
- Observe the Sabbath rest. (Exodus 34:21)
- Observe the Feast of First Fruits. (Exodus 34:22)
- Observe the Feast of Ingathering. (Exodus 34:22)
- Do not offer a blood sacrifice with leavened bread and do not let the Passover sacrifice remain until morning. (Exodus 34:25)
- Bring the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple. (Exodus 34:26)
- Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk. (Exodus 34:26)
At the start of this section in Exodus 34:10, God says that He is making a covenant. In Exodus 34:27-28, God tells Moses to write down the words of this covenant, and it was the words of this covenant, this list of commandments which were written on the Judeo-Christian world's most famous stone tablets. The last verse concludes with the phrase “the Ten Commandments” and it is the first time the term is actually used in the Bible. These Ten Commandments are now commonly referred to as the Ritual Decalogue.
Most of these Ten Commandments are in Exodus 23, which is at the end of the list of commandments given to the Israelites which had begun in Exodus 20 with the popular version of the Ten Commandments (which are known as the Ethical Decalogue).
And finally, if you study the Biblical Ten Commandments, you will come to notice something. All of them are essentially instructing the Israelites how to honor God. At the heart of the covenant agreement is the sense of if you do this, then I will do that; if the Israelites honor God, then God will deliver the Promised Land to them.
Of course, to the skeptic it is only natural that the Ritual Decalogue, not the Ethical Decalogue, were carved in stone. Why? These commandments focus primarily on keeping the faith pure and providing offerings in the Temple. A pure faith (without competition) with mandated offerings is the most “enriching” faith for the priestly class, in the financial sense of the word.