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Exodus 20:12-17

Context

20:12 “Honor 1  your father and your mother, that you may live a long time 2  in the land 3  the Lord your God is giving to you.

20:13 “You shall not murder. 4 

20:14 “You shall not commit adultery. 5 

20:15 “You shall not steal. 6 

20:16 “You shall not give 7  false testimony 8  against your neighbor.

20:17 “You shall not covet 9  your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor.” 10 

1 tn The verb כַּבֵּד (kabbed) is a Piel imperative; it calls for people to give their parents the respect and honor that is appropriate for them. It could be paraphrased to say, give them the weight of authority that they deserve. Next to God, parents were to be highly valued, cared for, and respected.

2 tn Heb “that your days may be long.”

3 sn The promise here is national rather than individual, although it is certainly true that the blessing of life was promised for anyone who was obedient to God’s commands (Deut 4:1, 8:1, etc.). But as W. C. Kaiser (“Exodus,” EBC 2:424) summarizes, the land that was promised was the land of Canaan, and the duration of Israel in the land was to be based on morality and the fear of God as expressed in the home (Deut 4:26, 33, 40; 32:46-47). The captivity was in part caused by a breakdown in this area (Ezek 22:7, 15). Malachi would announce at the end of his book that Elijah would come at the end of the age to turn the hearts of the children and the parents toward each other again.

4 tn The verb רָצַח (ratsakh) refers to the premeditated or accidental taking of the life of another human being; it includes any unauthorized killing (it is used for the punishment of a murderer, but that would not be included in the prohibition). This commandment teaches the sanctity of all human life. See J. H. Yoder, “Exodus 20,13: ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’,” Int 34 (1980): 394-99; and A. Phillips, “Another Look at Murder,” JJS 28 (1977): 105-26.

5 sn This is a sin against the marriage of a fellow citizen – it destroys the home. The Law distinguished between adultery (which had a death penalty) and sexual contact with a young woman (which carried a monetary fine and usually marriage if the father was willing). So it distinguished fornication and adultery. Both were sins, but the significance of each was different. In the ancient world this sin is often referred to as “the great sin.”

6 sn This law protected the property of the Israelite citizen. See D. Little, “Exodus 20,15: ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’,” Int 34 (1980): 399-405.

7 tn Heb “answer” as in a court of law.

8 tn The expression עֵד שָׁקֶר (’ed shaqer) means “a lying witness” (B. S. Childs, Exodus [OTL], 388). In this verse the noun is an adverbial accusative, “you will not answer as a lying witness.” The prohibition is against perjury. While the precise reference would be to legal proceedings, the law probably had a broader application to lying about other people in general (see Lev 5:1; Hos 4:2).

9 tn The verb חָמַד (khamad) focuses not on an external act but on an internal mental activity behind the act, the motivation for it. The word can be used in a very good sense (Ps 19:10; 68:16), but it has a bad connotation in contexts where the object desired is off limits. This command is aimed at curtailing the greedy desire for something belonging to a neighbor, a desire that leads to the taking of it or the attempt to take it. It was used in the story of the Garden of Eden for the tree that was desired.

10 sn See further G. Wittenburg, “The Tenth Commandment in the Old Testament,” Journal for Theology in South Africa 21 (1978): 3-17: and E. W. Nicholson, “The Decalogue as the Direct Address of God,” VT 27 (1977): 422-33.



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