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BibleProject Podcast
BibleProject Podcast
Exodus Scroll • Episode 7
What Are the Ten Commandments All About?
70m • April 25, 2022
We often think of the ten commandments as a list of dos and don’ts—the things you need to know to make God happy. But is that what they’re really about? In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they take a deep dive into the ten commandments, and find out why they’re far less about simulating moral perfection than they are about preserving proper worship of Yahweh and the shared dignity of humans as his image bearers.
What You'll Learn:
  • God’s laws are about giving an identity to God’s chosen ones, not about simulating moral perfection
  • The first four commandments detail parameters for Israel’s relationship with Yahweh, and the fifth and following commandments all specify ways in which Israelites are to treat others
  • Each of the ten commandments is as much about honoring Yahweh as they are about honoring and dignifying other humans
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QUOTE

God redeems a people from slavery, [where they acquired an identity]. In slavery they were molded—their life, their environment, their choices … to serve the Egyptian empire and its gods. So when Yahweh redeems a people, he takes them out to the middle of nowhere, where they have no land and no social identity. He’s remaking the people. The laws represent the way that Israel’s communal identity, story, and values are reshaped and recreated.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • God’s laws are about giving an identity to God’s chosen ones, not about simulating moral perfection. Put another way, following the laws isn’t about making God happy—following the laws creates a lifestyle that reflects God’s image to the nations.
  • While the first four commandments detail parameters for Israel’s relationship with Yahweh, the fifth and following commandments all specify ways in which Israelites are to treat others.
  • Each of the ten commandments is as much about honoring Yahweh as they are about honoring and dignifying other humans as God’s image bearers. For instance, when humans make idols and worship them, they’re not only investing in a created thing the reverence and glory that should only belong to Yahweh, but robbing themselves of their own dignity as God’s image bearers.

The Purpose of God’s Laws

In part one (0-11:00), Tim and Jon pick up the story of Exodus at the climactic moment where we left off in our last episode: Moses walking straight into the fire of God’s presence on Mount Sinai. In this episode, we’re wrapping up the second movement of the Exodus scroll, where we’ve been tracing the theme of the test. Israel’s arrival at Mount Sinai is part of a test too.

As part of forging his covenant with Israel, Yahweh invites Israel to come into his presence on the mountain (Exodus 19), but they refuse and send Moses up in their stead (Exodus 20-24).

On Mount Sinai, Yahweh gives Moses the ten commandments and 42 additional laws. These are by no means exhaustive—Israel will eventually have 613 laws. But they represent the terms of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel. The laws are about giving an identity to God’s chosen ones, not necessarily about simulating moral perfection. Put another way, following the laws isn’t about making God happy—following the laws creates a lifestyle that reflects God’s image to the nations.

For more on Israel’s law system, check out our videos The Law and How to Read the Bible: Biblical Law, as well as our corresponding podcast episodes on the law and how to read it.

Commands About Bearing God’s Image

In part two (11:00-28:50), Tim and Jon dive into discussion about the first three commandments (Exodus 20:1-7).

Each of the ten commandments is linked directly to God’s character and the role of humans to bear his image. For instance, the first commandment, ”You shall have no other gods before me,” could be referring to literally putting no idol statues in front of Yahweh’s presence, or it could refer to having no other gods that take priority over Yahweh. No matter how you interpret it, however, this command is linked directly to Yahweh’s action in the exodus.

Exodus 20:2-3
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.

Yahweh reminds Israel of who he has shown himself to be. It’s his deliverance and character that warrants their loyalty.

The second commandment involves not just proper worship of Yahweh, but proper respect for humans as well.

Exodus 20:4
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any image of what is in the skies above or on the land below or in the water under the land.

Yahweh has already created an image of himself: humans. He’s preserving both the sanctity of his own worship and the responsibility of humans to bear his image. When humans make idols and worship them, they’re not only investing in a created thing the reverence and glory that should only belong to Yahweh, but robbing themselves of their own dignity as God’s image bearers.

In a similar way, the third command, which prohibits “carrying God’s name in vain,” is about more than simply invoking Yahweh’s name in a profane manner. It has to do with the God-given responsibility of humans to carry God’s name and bear his image in a way that accurately represents his character. To carry Yahweh’s name is all-encompassing for a person’s life.

How To Treat Image Bearers

In part three (28:50-62:00), Tim and Jon discuss the rest of the ten commandments. Up first is God’s instruction to honor the Sabbath.

Exodus 20:8
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of Yahweh your God.

Beyond its obvious connection to Genesis 1-2, the command for sabbath rest draws readers back to the exodus, where Israel’s deliverance culminated in the celebration of Passover and the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. In Exodus 12-13, Yahweh commands Israel to commemorate the first and seventh days of this feast as sabbath days. The Israelites leave Egypt the night of this second sabbath, painting Israel’s exodus as Israel’s recreation. Even as Yahweh de-creates Egypt, he recreates Israel out of the destruction. The sabbath command also brings to mind the seventh day rest after a week of collecting manna in the wilderness.

Yahweh’s commands about work and rest are ultimately about establishing the principle that his image bearers do not live by their work alone, but by trusting his goodness and provision.

While the first four commandments detail parameters for Israel’s relationship with Yahweh, the fifth and following commandments all specify ways in which Israelites are to treat others.

Each of these commandments is rooted in the shared identity of humans as God’s image bearers. For instance, as parents are called to be an image of God to their children, so children are meant to honor their parents—not by worshiping them as they would Yahweh, but by giving them respect as Yahweh’s representatives. Murder wrongfully appropriates the authority over life and death that only belongs to Yahweh. Adultery undermines the union of man and woman that is part of God’s ideal for humanity in the Eden story. Stealing from another person also robs their dignity as image bearers.

Cultivating Desire

In part four (62:00-1:10:11), the guys conclude with a closer look at the tenth commandment, the prohibition against desiring or coveting something that belongs to your neighbor.

Jon raises the question, “How can we control desires when they seem to just ‘appear’? Isn’t it more important to control what we do with our desires?”

Perhaps we can’t control our desires, but we can do more than just discipline how we react to them. We have an ability to cultivate our desires by what we choose to invest in, think about, pursue. For example, practicing gratitude for what we have can help us keep from coveting the belongings of another person. It’s also easier to align our desires with God’s when we trust his character—his desires for us are good for us.

Referenced Resources

  • Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, Carmen Joy Imes
  • Cowboy Ten Commandments
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.
  • You can experience the literary themes and movements we’re tracing on the podcast in the BibleProject app, available for Android and iOS.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • “Evening Flight” by Sam Stewart
  • “Long Lost Friend” by Sam Stewart
  • “Unidentified Lights” by Sam Stewart

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Frank Garza. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.

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Exodus E1  –  1hr 6m
“God” Is Not a Name
1hr 6m
Exodus E2  –  1hr 6m
Yahweh and the Exodus
1hr 6m
Exodus E3  –  1hr 1m
Why Are There 10 Plagues?
1hr 1m
Exodus E4  –  1hr 3m
God Tests His Chosen Ones
1hr 3m
Exodus E5  –  1hr 12m
Israel Tests Yahweh
1hr 12m
Exodus E6  –  1hr 3m
Testing at Mount Sinai
1hr 3m
1hr 10m
1hr 17m
1hr 1m
Feat. Carmen Imes  –  1hr 2m
Two Takes on the Test at Mount Sinai
1hr 2m
Exodus Q+R  –  1hr 13m
Did God Try To Kill Moses?
1hr 13m
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