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Exodus 20:22-26

Context
The Altar

20:22 1 The Lord said 2  to Moses: “Thus you will tell the Israelites: ‘You yourselves have seen that I have spoken with you from heaven. 20:23 You must not make gods of silver alongside me, 3  nor make gods of gold for yourselves. 4 

20:24 ‘You must make for me an altar made of earth, 5  and you will sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, 6  your sheep and your cattle. In every place 7  where I cause my name to be honored 8  I will come to you and I will bless you. 20:25 If you make me an altar of stone, you must not build it 9  of stones shaped with tools, 10  for if you use your tool on it you have defiled it. 11  20:26 And you must not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness is not exposed.’ 12 

1 sn Based on the revelation of the holy sovereign God, this pericope instructs Israel on the form of proper worship of such a God. It focuses on the altar, the centerpiece of worship. The point of the section is this: those who worship this holy God must preserve holiness in the way they worship – they worship where he permits, in the manner he prescribes, and with the blessings he promises. This paragraph is said to open the Book of the Covenant, which specifically rules on matters of life and worship.

2 tn Heb “and Yahweh said.”

3 tn The direct object of the verb must be “gods of silver.” The prepositional phrase modifies the whole verse to say that these gods would then be alongside the one true God.

4 tn Heb “neither will you make for you gods of gold.”

sn U. Cassuto explains that by the understanding of parallelism each of the halves apply to the whole verse, so that “with me” and “for you” concern gods of silver or gods of gold (Exodus, 255).

5 sn The instructions here call for the altar to be made of natural things, not things manufactured or shaped by man. The altar was either to be made of clumps of earth or natural, unhewn rocks.

6 sn The “burnt offering” is the offering prescribed in Lev 1. Everything of this animal went up in smoke as a sweet aroma to God. It signified complete surrender by the worshiper who brought the animal, and complete acceptance by God, thereby making atonement. The “peace offering” is legislated in Lev 3 and 7. This was a communal meal offering to celebrate being at peace with God. It was made usually for thanksgiving, for payment of vows, or as a freewill offering.

7 tn Gesenius lists this as one of the few places where the noun in construct seems to be indefinite in spite of the fact that the genitive has the article. He says בְּכָל־הַמָּקוֹם (bÿkhol-hammaqom) means “in all the place, sc. of the sanctuary, and is a dogmatic correction of “in every place” (כָּל־מָקוֹם, kol-maqom). See GKC 412 §127.e.

8 tn The verb is זָכַר (zakhar, “to remember”), but in the Hiphil especially it can mean more than remember or cause to remember (remind) – it has the sense of praise or honor. B. S. Childs says it has a denominative meaning, “to proclaim” (Exodus [OTL], 447). The point of the verse is that God will give Israel reason for praising and honoring him, and in every place that occurs he will make his presence known by blessing them.

9 tn Heb “them” referring to the stones.

10 tn Heb “of hewn stones.” Gesenius classifies this as an adverbial accusative – “you shall not build them (the stones of the altar) as hewn stones.” The remoter accusative is in apposition to the nearer (GKC 372 §117.kk).

11 tn The verb is a preterite with vav (ו) consecutive. It forms the apodosis in a conditional clause: “if you lift up your tool on it…you have defiled it.”

12 tn Heb “uncovered” (so ASV, NAB).



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