Exodus 20:1–4, 7–8, 12–17; 24:4–8comment (0)
June 20, 2013
By Jeffery M. Leonard
Related Scripture: Exodus 20:1–4, 7–8, 12–17; 24:4–8
Bible Studies for Life
Assistant Professor of Religion, Samford University
God Instructs His People
Exodus 20:1–4, 7–8, 12–17; 24:4–8
Be Loyal to God (20:1–4, 7–8)
One of the most awe-inspiring scenes in Scripture is the theophany at Sinai described in Exodus 19–24. Often overlooked in this important text is the sustained nuptial imagery that frames the meeting between God and Israel. After courting the Israelites in the wilderness, God now proceeds to make the nation His bride at Sinai. Moses acts as messenger as God proposes (“If you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession”), and Israel accepts (“We will do everything the Lord has said”). A wedding date is set (“Be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down”), and at the appointed time the groom arrives to fetch His bride (“Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire”).
The familiar Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 form the terms of this marriage between God and Israel. After establishing His credentials (“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt”), God turns first and naturally to the matter of exclusive fidelity: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” The sense of this Hebrew phrase, “before Me,” is not one of priority but of geography. It is not that the Israelites must make sure the Lord ranks first among the gods they worship; they are never to worship any other god. To bring one of those gods “before Me,” literally “before My face,” would be tantamount to Israel’s committing adultery right in the face of her husband, the Lord.
The remaining instructions flow from this first command. The people are not to diminish the majesty of God by reducing Him to a physical image. They are to set Him apart as sacred by treating even His name with reverence. They are to consecrate the Sabbath to Him, trusting in God even more than their own labor to provide for their needs.
Be Respectful of Others (20:12–17)
The terms of this marriage extend far beyond the nation’s expected regard for God. The God who liberated one human from another in the exodus demands respectful treatment, one human to another, among His people. Parents are not to be deprived of the honor they deserve through disrespect. One person is not to deprive another of life through murder; property through theft, false testimony or covetousness; or the joy of faithful marriage through adultery. This is to be a holy nation, bound by obedient trust to God.
Be Committed to Obedience (24:4–8)
After spelling out the terms of marriage in the Ten Commandments and the laws that follow, the text returns to its nuptial framework in chapter 24. Just as rings are exchanged in weddings today as a sign binding husband and wife together, a sign is used at Sinai to mark the bond between God and Israel. When Moses offers sacrifices at the foot of the mountain, he collects some of the blood from the offerings in bowls. What he does with this blood is fascinating. Half he splashes against the altar; the other half he sprinkles on the people as they declare their vows to the Lord. God and the people are bound by the blood that marks them both.
This newly forged bond between God and the people perhaps explains the moving scene in vv. 9–11. Though previously warned not to approach God, the elders now accompany Moses up the mountain, and there the text tells us they saw God Himself. They “saw the God of Israel. Under His feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. But God did not raise His hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.”
These two are now joined in marriage and so God does not strike the people for their audacious approach. Instead they eat and drink, and appropriately so, since what follows a wedding is a wedding feast.