Think You Know the Ten Commandments?

Everyone knows the ten commandments, how couldn’t you? With people fighting over where they belong, arguing over separation of Church and State. I still remember Charlton Heston’s teeth from The Ten Commandments as he brought the tablets down from the mountain. Just one little problem: they’re not the real ten commandments.

Exodus 20 is where we get the ten commandments, the same ones that sit outside a courthouse, the same ones drilled into our heads from childhood. But if you actually read the whole section, Exodus 19-21 you see that Moses climbed Sinai then descended almost instantaneously because to many people where trying to approach the mountain so they could get a look at God. And God was explicitly clear on what would happen to anyone who climbed up, even priests–they’d die.

So Moses being a, voice-of-god–super climber–hauls ass down, bringing us to chapter 20, where Moses is telling Israel the commandments as we know them:

  1. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.
  2. thous shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vein.
  4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
  5. Honor thy father and mother.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  10. Thou shalt not covet.

No stone tablets are mentioned here, no golden calf, in fact God just goes on with more instructions for the people. But those weren’t as important, so only the first ten in the chapter stuck. Here’s where they’re actually mentioned in scripture, not just the chapter heading: Exodus 34–here are the real (slightly stranger) commandments, taken from the NIV:

15 “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16 And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.
17 “Do not make any idols.”
18 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.”
19 “The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. 20 Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons.”
“No one is to appear before me empty-handed.”
21 “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.”
22 “Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.[b] 23 Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 “I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.”
25 “Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Festival remain until morning.”
26 “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.”
“Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
27 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.

The real ones aren’t as moral sounding as those from chapter 20, but those are the actual commandments from the part of the story where Moses went up Sinai with stone tablets. Not as neat or relevant as the other ten, which is probably why most people don’t know them.


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