Day 18  Exodus 20:1-21 ... A Treaty with God


Nearly everyone has heard of the Ten Commandments.  For most of us, they represent a central core of morality, “the basics” that God requires.  But for the Israelites in the desert, the Ten Commandments represented far more-nothing less than a major breakthrough.  Nations around them, who worshipped many different gods, live in constant fear of the Gods’ unpredictability.  Who could tell what might anger or please them?  But now God himself, Maker of the universe, was giving the Israelites a binding treaty signed in his own hand.  They would always know exactly what God required and where they stood before him.

God held before them some wonderful guarantees: prosperity, abundant crops, victorious armies, immunity from health problems.  In effect, he agreed to remove most of the problems people face in daily existence.  In exchange he asked that the Israelites obey the rules outlined in this and the next few chapters.  God’s original covenant with Abraham he now made formal, and applied to a whole nation.  (This middle part of Exodus is known as the Book of the Covenant, for it contains the essence of the Israelites’ treaty with God.)

“Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” God said (19:5-6).  He wanted a nation like no other, a model society centered around a commitment to him.  All the Israelites waited in anticipation as Moses climbed a dark, smoky mountain to meet with God.  No one present could miss the significance of that meeting: It was marked by thunder and lightning, and a loud, piercing trumpet blast, and fire.  The ground itself shook as in an earthquake.

Out of that meeting on Mount Sinai came the rules summarized here.  The Bible fills in many more details of the treaty, but these Ten Commandments express the kind of behavior God wanted from his people.  It was a day of wild hope. “We will do everything the LORD has said,” the people all promised with a shout (19:8).


Point to Ponder: Most of the Ten Commandments are stated in a negative form. Can you restate them positively?   What personal rights do they protect?