Exodus 18-20: God's Commandments

Moses trains leaders to judge God's will and is given the Ten Commandments by God himself.


One of the most notable portions of Exodus (aside from the Israelites escape from Egypt) is God giving Moses the Ten Commandments. In this post we talk about a few events leading up to this, and a little about the Ten Commandments given. Links to more in depth posts on each commandment are also provided.

Moses as a Judge

As God's messenger, Moses acts as a judge for the Israelites. He meets with concerned parties and determines what God would say about the matter (essentially the first incarnation of "what would Jesus do," only it was "what would God do").

Jethro Visits

After defeating Pharaoh and escaping Egypt, word of Moses' success and connection to God spread throughout the area reaching all the way to Midian. Upon hearing the news, Jethro travels to the location of the Israelites to see Moses. He also brings Zipporah and Moses' sons (Gershom and Eliezer) to meet him (implying that at some point, Moses had sent them back to Midian). It is through his conversation with Jethro that we understand Moses' position as judge.

Jethro's Advice

Jethro recognizes that there are too many people for Moses to judge every matter that comes up. He suggests Moses train trusted men as leaders, specifying that they should be God fearing, haters of coveting, honest, and able. When they are knowledgable about the ordinances, he can delegate trivial matters to them and only hear complex matters. Moses takes his father-in-law's advice and sets up such a system. Jethro then returns to Midian.

The Ten Commandments

In the third month of their journey,the Israelites come to the wilderness of Sinai. God tells Moses the Israelites will be a holy nation and kingdom of priests, provided they follow His commandments. When the people accept God's offer, God tells Moses He will visit the people as a "thick cloud" and urges Moses to sanctify the people and allow them to wash their clothes (note that washing their clothes is separate from being sanctified) before God arrives. Moses is given the command that no one (man or animal) is to go near the border of the mountain or touch the mountain; anyone who disobeyed was to be stoned. In addition, we are told that Moses commands them not to have sex before meeting God, this is further evidence that they already knew at least some of the ordinance and commandments Moses receives, as Leviticus 15:16-18 tells us that semen causes both the man and woman to be unclean. They are given three days to prepare for God's visit.

When God descends upon the mountain, He comes in fire. Moses tells us there is smoke, like that of a furnace and that the whole mountain quaked at God's presence. There is the sounding of a trumpet which grows louder and louder until Moses calls out to God and God answers.

Moses Called to Sinai

God calls Moses to come to the top of the mountain, but then tells him to go back down to the people to ensure that none of them follow Moses up the mountain to gaze at God. God warns that if they do, they will die. Moses reminds God that none of the people can come near the mountain, since God has set bounds. God sends Moses down anyway, commanding Him to tell the people nonetheless as well as to bring Aaron with him.

Commandment Overview

Commandment Bible Verses
1 Thou shalt have no other gods before me Exodus 20:3
2 4Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:4-6
3 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. Exodus 20:7
4 8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. Exodus 20:8-11
5 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. Exodus 20:12
6 Thou shalt not kill. Exodus 20:13
7 Thou shalt not commit adultery Exodus 20:14
8 Thou shalt not steal. Exodus 20:15
9 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Exodus 20:16
10 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.. Exodus 20:17

Top The following links lead you to posts that go into more detail about the importance of the each commandment. Some posts include information on what the command actually means (for those that are not as straight forward as "thou shalt not kill") and/or examples from the Bible of God's people keeping the commandment.
  1. Commandment 1: No Gods Before YHWH
  2. Commandment 2: No Graven Images
  3. Commandment 3: Do Not Take the Lord's Name in Vain
  4. Commandment 4: Remember the Sabbath, to Keep it Holy
  5. Commandment 5: Honor Your Mother and Father
  6. Commandment 6: Do Not Kill
  7. Commandment 7: Do Not Commit Adultery
  8. Commandment 8: Do Not Steal
  9. Commandment 9: Do Not Bear False Witness
  10. Commandment 10: Do Not Covet

The Fear of God

When the Israelites see the God's display of power—the thunder, lightning, trumpet, and smoking—the stand far away. They ask Moses to speak because they are afraid if God speaks, they will die. Moses tells them not fear God because God has simply come to prove Himself to them. Moses informs them that their fear of God is meant to scare them away from sin.



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