The Real Ten Commandments
Keeping in mind that as an atheist, I don’t consider the Bible any kind of source of truth, but since most Christians do, I thought I’d point out something they might not have taken much time to think about.
The Israelites never saw or heard the first set of “commandments” God gave to Moses.
According to Exodus, the first book of the Pentateuch:
After leaving Egypt and drowning Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea (something else I doubt, but that’s for another time), the Israelites wandered around the desert for two or three months (The KJV says “in the third month;” see Exodus 19:1), they stopped in the wilderness of Sinai.
Having been called to come up the mountain, Moses went up to meet with God.
God told Moses:
You’ve seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I brought you to me on the wings of eagles. If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my possession among all the people; for all the earth is mine, and to me you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This is what you should tell the Israelites. (Exodus 19:4-6)
Moses told everyone what God told him, and they said, in essence, “If he said it, we’ll do it.”
Moses went back to God and told him that he had a deal. God told Moses to consecrate the Israelites for the next two days and that they should wash their clothes because God would come down from the mountain on the third day. Nobody was to approach the mountain, and everyone was to abstain from sex (Exodus 19:10-15).
On the morning of the third day, the base of the mountain was covered in thick smoke from the fire of the presence of God. Moses called to God, and God answered Moses in thunder (Exodus 19:19), telling him to consecrate the mountain, to come up alone, and that the priests were to consecrate themselves and to keep everyone else away from the mountain.
God also told Moses to go back down and to return with his brother Aaron. When Moses returned, God gave them 613 laws, the first ten of which we commonly call ‘The Ten Commandments:’
- I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me;
- You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in Heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain;
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy;
- Honour your father and mother;
- You shall not kill;
- You shall not commit adultery;
- You shall not steal;
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour;
- You shall not covet anything that is your neighbour’s. (Exodus 20:2-17)
When Moses returned, he was carrying two stone tablets; the laws he’d been given (we can assume all 613, because he’d been up on the mountain for forty days and nights) were written on the tablets.
During Moses’ absence, the Israelites had started worshipping golden idols of calves. Moses pleaded to God to not punish the Israelites and to remember he had promised that he would give the Israelites their new land after all they’d put up with under the Egyptians (Exodus 32:11-14).
Moses then turned to the Israelites and smashed the tablets he’d been carrying. He called out for those who still sided with God to kill those who had turned away from God while he had been on the mountain. Some three thousand men died that day at the hands of the sons of Levi (Exodus 32:26-29), who moved to Moses’ side.
Moses asked to be ‘blotted out of God’s book’ for his failings; that’s why Moses didn’t get to cross the Jordan River. However, God replaced the stone tablets Moses had destroyed.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
The new tablets contained a different set of ‘commandments’ than the old tablets:
- You shall worship no other gods, for the Lord your God is a jealous God;
- You shall make for yourself no molten gods;
- The feast of unleavened bread (Passover) you shall keep;
- All that opens the womb is mine;
- Six days you shall work, but on the seventh you shall rest;
- You shall observe the feast of weeks (to commemorate the giving of the Torah);
- Three times in the year shall your males appear before the Lord God;
- You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven;
- The first fruits of each year belong to the Lord your God;
- You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. (Exodus 34:14-26)
In Exodus 34:28, these are called the ‘ten commandments.’
The ‘original’ commandments are contained in Deuteronomy 5:6-21, but they are not referred to as commandments.