Podcast Episode

What Are the Ten Commandments All About?

We often think of the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts—the things you need to do to make God happy. But is that what they’re really about? In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they take a deep dive into the Ten Commandments and find out why they’re more about preserving proper worship of Yahweh and the shared dignity of humans.

Episode 7
1hr 10m
Apr 25, 2022
Play Episode
Show Notes


God redeems a people from slavery, [where they acquired an identity]. In slavery they were molded—their life, their environment, their choices … to serve the Egyptian empire and its gods. So when Yahweh redeems a people, he takes them out to the middle of nowhere, where they have no land and no social identity. He’s remaking the people. The laws represent the way that Israel’s communal identity, story, and values are reshaped and recreated.


  • God’s laws are about giving an identity to God’s chosen ones, not about simulating moral perfection. Put another way, following the laws isn’t about making God happy—following the laws creates a lifestyle that reflects God’s image to the nations.
  • While the first four commandments detail parameters for Israel’s relationship with Yahweh, the fifth and following commandments all specify ways in which Israelites are to treat others.
  • Each of the Ten Commandments is as much about honoring Yahweh as they are about honoring and dignifying other humans as God’s image bearers. For instance, when humans make idols and worship them, they’re not only investing in a created thing the reverence and glory that should only belong to Yahweh, but robbing themselves of their own dignity as God’s image bearers.

The Purpose of God’s Laws

In part one (0-11:00), Tim and Jon pick up the story of Exodus at the climactic moment where we left off in our last episode: Moses walking straight into the fire of God’s presence on Mount Sinai. In this episode, we’re wrapping up the second movement of the Exodus scroll, where we’ve been tracing the theme of the test. Israel’s arrival at Mount Sinai is part of a test too.

As part of forging his covenant with Israel, Yahweh invites Israel to come into his presence on the mountain (Exodus 19), but they refuse and send Moses up in their stead (Exodus 20-24).

On Mount Sinai, Yahweh gives Moses the Ten Commandments and 42 additional laws. These are by no means exhaustive—Israel will eventually have 613 laws. But they represent the terms of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel. The laws are about giving an identity to God’s chosen ones, not necessarily about simulating moral perfection. Put another way, following the laws isn’t about making God happy—following the laws creates a lifestyle that reflects God’s image to the nations.

For more on Israel’s law system, check out our videos The Law and How to Read the Bible: Biblical Law, as well as our corresponding podcast episodes on the law and how to read it.

Commands About Bearing God’s Image

In part two (11:00-28:50), Tim and Jon dive into discussion about the first three commandments (Exodus 20:1-7).

Each of the Ten Commandments is linked directly to God’s character and the role of humans to bear his image. For instance, the first commandment, ”You shall have no other gods before me,” could be referring to literally putting no idol statues in front of Yahweh’s presence, or it could refer to having no other gods that take priority over Yahweh. No matter how you interpret it, however, this command is linked directly to Yahweh’s action in the exodus.

Exodus 20:2-3
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.

Yahweh reminds Israel of who he has shown himself to be. It’s his deliverance and character that warrants their loyalty.

The second commandment involves not just proper worship of Yahweh, but proper respect for humans as well.

Exodus 20:4
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any image of what is in the skies above or on the land below or in the water under the land.

Yahweh has already created an image of himself: humans. He’s preserving both the sanctity of his own worship and the responsibility of humans to bear his image. When humans make idols and worship them, they’re not only investing in a created thing the reverence and glory that should only belong to Yahweh, but robbing themselves of their own dignity as God’s image bearers.

In a similar way, the third command, which prohibits “carrying God’s name in vain,” is about more than simply invoking Yahweh’s name in a profane manner. It has to do with the God-given responsibility of humans to carry God’s name and bear his image in a way that accurately represents his character. To carry Yahweh’s name is all-encompassing for a person’s life.

How To Treat Image Bearers

In part three (28:50-62:00), Tim and Jon discuss the rest of the Ten Commandments. Up first is God’s instruction to honor the Sabbath.

Exodus 20:8
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of Yahweh your God.

Beyond its obvious connection to Genesis 1-2, the command for sabbath rest draws readers back to the exodus, where Israel’s deliverance culminated in the celebration of Passover and the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. In Exodus 12-13, Yahweh commands Israel to commemorate the first and seventh days of this feast as sabbath days. The Israelites leave Egypt the night of this second sabbath, painting Israel’s exodus as Israel’s recreation. Even as Yahweh de-creates Egypt, he recreates Israel out of the destruction. The sabbath command also brings to mind the seventh day rest after a week of collecting manna in the wilderness.

Yahweh’s commands about work and rest are ultimately about establishing the principle that his image bearers do not live by their work alone, but by trusting his goodness and provision.

While the first four commandments detail parameters for Israel’s relationship with Yahweh, the fifth and following commandments all specify ways in which Israelites are to treat others.

Each of these commandments is rooted in the shared identity of humans as God’s image bearers. For instance, as parents are called to be an image of God to their children, so children are meant to honor their parents—not by worshiping them as they would Yahweh, but by giving them respect as Yahweh’s representatives. Murder wrongfully appropriates the authority over life and death that only belongs to Yahweh. Adultery undermines the union of man and woman that is part of God’s ideal for humanity in the Eden story. Stealing from another person also robs their dignity as image bearers.

Cultivating Desire

In part four (62:00-1:10:11), the guys conclude with a closer look at the tenth commandment, the prohibition against desiring or coveting something that belongs to your neighbor.

Jon raises the question, “How can we control desires when they seem to just ‘appear’? Isn’t it more important to control what we do with our desires?”

Perhaps we can’t control our desires, but we can do more than just discipline how we react to them. We have an ability to cultivate our desires by what we choose to invest in, think about, pursue. For example, practicing gratitude for what we have can help us keep from coveting the belongings of another person. It’s also easier to align our desires with God’s when we trust his character—his desires for us are good for us.

Referenced Resources

  • Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, Carmen Joy Imes
  • Cowboy Ten Commandments
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.
  • You can experience the literary themes and movements we’re tracing on the podcast in the BibleProject app, available for Android and iOS.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • “Evening Flight” by Sam Stewart
  • “Long Lost Friend” by Sam Stewart
  • “Unidentified Lights” by Sam Stewart

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Frank Garza. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.

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Scripture References
Exodus 32
Genesis 1-2
Genesis 27
Exodus 20:8-11
Exodus 20:17
Genesis 1:26-28
Genesis 5:3
Genesis 5
Exodus 20
Exodus 16
Ephesians 6:1-3
Exodus 19-24
Luke 22:42
Exodus 20:7
Genesis 4
Exodus 20:1-3
Exodus 19:18-21
Deuteronomy 30
Psalms 119
Exodus 20:18-21
Exodus 21-23
Exodus 19:17
Exodus 19:8
Exodus 20:4-6
Exodus 34:5-7
Deuteronomy 4:15-20
Exodus 28:15-21
Exodus 12-13
Exodus 23:14-16
Exodus 34:18-28
Exodus 20:12-17
Genesis 3:20
Genesis 37:17-35
Exodus 20:13-15
Exodus 20:16-17
Matthew 5:33-37
Exodus 13:17-22
Exodus 14-24

What Are the Ten Commandments All About?

Series: Exodus Scroll E7

Podcast Date: April 25, 2022, 69:44

Speakers in the audio file: Jon Collins, Tim Mackie


Jon: The ten commandments are still referred to today as a wise and good moral code that we should follow and honor. But it's important to remember that these ten commands came at a specific part of a story. And they're the first of many covenant commands that God gives Israel when they sign on the dotted line to be his covenant partners.

Tim: The equivalent is when you see a couple at a wedding ceremony, and if they integrate into their ceremony some kind of statement of vows. That's what the laws are. They are the vows. "Here are the terms of our relationship and here's the ideals and the practices that I'm going to do to uphold this relationship."

Jon: Now, there's going to be 613 commands that we're going to read about as we finish the Torah. And they're all covenant commands. These are just the first ten. They're a primer, if you will, a thesis. These first ten set the tone (00:01:00) for what kind of people God wants Israel to become.

Tim: Their life and their environment and their choices, everything was molded to serve the Egyptian empire and its gods. So now Yahweh is redeeming a people. He takes them out to the middle of nowhere. They have no land, no social identity anymore. He's remaking the people. So the laws represent the way that Israel's communal identity and story and values are reshaped and re-created. 

Jon: And it's easy to think of these ancient laws as some sort of tedious obligation to make God happy. But the ancient Israelites thought no such thing. 

Tim: So the laws, yeah, they're not about making God happy so that he'll redeem you. In both Jewish and Christian traditions, there's a conviction that God's commands are given for our good. Not just because God thinks this is good, but that it’s actually for our good. (00:02:00) 

Jon: And as we finish this movement in the scroll of Exodus, we also finish our examination of the theme of the test.

Tim: The choice that lay before Israel about whether or not they're going to live out their calling, bear the name of Yahweh successfully by becoming a kingdom of priests.

Jon: I'm Jon Collins. This is BibleProject podcast. Today Tim Mackie and I talk the ten commandments. Thanks for joining us. Here we go. 

Hey, Tim. 

Tim: Jon, hello.

Jon: Hello, hello. We are cruising through the Exodus scroll, and we are at the place in the Exodus scroll where Moses meets God on Mount Sinai in fire. And we just talked in the last episode about how this was still part of the pattern of testing. So this whole movement that we're in right now, which is the second movement of Exodus, we're tracing (00:03:00) the theme of testing because it's all over. God calling them up to Mount Sinai, we looked at that as just one big test about whether they will listen to his voice and obey and go up the mountain even though it's intense and they think it could kill them.

Tim: Israel comes to the mountain. Yahweh says, "I want to become covenant partners with you." The people say, "Yes." God invites them to come really close to him, to enter his fire and cloud as it were. And the people don't want to and they stand far away, and they say, "Moses, you go up for us." So Moses goes up into the cloud on their behalf.

In the narrative, the terms of the covenant … The equivalent is when you see a couple at a wedding ceremony, and if they integrate into their ceremony some kind of statement of vows. Essentially, that's what the laws are. They're the vows. "Here are the terms of our relationship and here's the ideals and the practices that I'm going to do to uphold this relationship." (00:04:00) I call them covenant laws just so that I remember that for myself. 

Years ago, I don't know how long, we talked about the law, the laws given to Israel actually in two different podcast series and two different videos. We did a theme video on the law like way back when we started the BibleProject, and then just a couple years ago we did a video in our How to Read the Bible Series called How to Read Biblical Law. And that was a long podcast series. That was fun. Actually, I have good memories of that. I learned a lot.

For listeners of the podcast, feel free to go back and you know, real-time you can go listen to all those to upload that. We're not going to talk about all of that content, the laws as wisdom literature. More what we're going to focus on is how the laws fit into the narrative flow of the Exodus scroll right here.

Jon: Okay. 

Tim: So the first block of laws are the most famous in the whole Bible, the ten commandments. And then what comes after that are a block of 42 laws (00:05:00) that are called the ordinances or the statutes. These are written upon what's called the scroll of the covenant. The ten commandments are famously written on two tablets of stone. And then these 42 commands are sometimes called the covenant code, and we're told they are written upon … 

Jon: A scroll.

Tim: … a scroll of the covenant. One is written by God. You're told in the story that God inscribed the ten commandments on the tablets. The covenant laws, the 42, we're told that Moses wrote them on a scroll.

Jon: There's 52 of them?

Tim: Yeah, there are 52.

Jon: This is gonna be more later, but are these supposed to summarize everything in some sense? 

Tim: Okay, this is worth recalling from our years ago conversation. There's going to be 10 plus 42 here. And then when you start getting later into Leviticus, there are going to be more laws about the tabernacle and ordaining the priesthood, you get into Leviticus and Numbers and there'll be lots of purity laws and (00:06:00) laws about feast days, making up a total of 613. 

So these laws, they're found in a narrative about the laws. In other words, the Torah, first five books of the Hebrew Bible, are not the ancient constitution of ancient Israel. They are not a complete list of all the laws that ancient Israel lived by. These are things that we talked about earlier.

Jon: Right.

Tim: So the authors of the Torah and its final shape have selected certain laws and put them in certain orders and key strategic places within the story to give examples of the kind of law and wisdom that Israel was to live by. So the 10 and 42 commands here, even just those numbers have a symbolism to them that shows that they're just a selection.

So in the bigger narrative … Do you remember this all began with Yahweh reclaiming his people from slavery among the nations (00:07:00) in Egypt? 

Jon: Yes. And the reason why he's creating a covenant is so that Israel will know his name, the nations will know his name.

Tim: That's right. 

Jon: That Israel can be the image of God for the nations.

Tim: Yeah, yeah, that's right.

Jon: The biblical story is all about that all humanity should be the image of God.

Tim: Yes.

Jon: So in that way, they are … Image of God is a way to be a priest, to be a mediator, who's all supposed to be the image of God.

Tim: That's right. These laws are about Yahweh beginning to shape a people to become mirrors of his character and wisdom. Their priestly vocation is to live according to the ethical ideals embodied in these laws. So you could say it's to a redeemed people that Yahweh gives the Torah, the laws of the Torah, his instruction. And adherence to the laws of the covenant are the way that they fulfill their mission to the nations. 

Jon: It's not the reason they were selected. They were selected, not by anything that they did. (00:08:00) But to fulfill the mission being the image, they need to follow these laws.

Tim: Yeah, totally. Or as the first mentor I ever had as a young man when I was learning how to follow Jesus in my early 20s, he used to put it this way. He said, "Most people think you need to get behaved and then you get saved." But he said, "With Jesus, you get saved, then you get behaved."

Jon: I like the word "listen" and "shema" better than "behave." Behave has a lot of baggage. 

Tim: Oh, totally. Yeah, I'm with you.

Jon: Yeah, just checking boxes and—

Tim: No. Saved to behaved doesn't actually get you that story. Because the whole point is that God redeems the people from slavery. And in slavery their life and their environment and their choices, everything was molded in an environment to serve the empire, the Egyptian empire (00:09:00) and its gods. So now Yahweh is redeeming a people. He takes them out to the middle of nowhere. They have no land, no social identity anymore. He's remaking the people, as it were.

So the laws represent the way that Israel's communal identity and story and values are reshaped and re-created. So the laws, they're not about making God happy so that he'll like redeem you. It's—this is now the appropriate way to respond so that we can mirror this God's character to the nations. So it's just a different kind of story around the laws than I think maybe … certainly than I was first introduced to when I was learning to read the Bible. But it's more positive. 

In other words, within the story you can see why the later biblical authors and the author of Psalm 119 loved to meditate on the laws of the Torah. Because as (00:10:00) they saw in them the wisdom and character of God that could give them direction for how to do good.

Jon: And why Moses would say in Deuteronomy like, "Hey, guys, you can do this. This is not too much. You can handle this." Doesn't he?

Tim: Out of one side of his mouth, he's like, "Yeah, just do it. It's not in heaven. It's not under the sea. You can follow the laws of the Torah." But then he's also gonna say, "But I know you're not gonna …" Again, like I said, what I want to focus is on how these two blocks of laws here in this story are really keyed into the themes of the Exodus scroll so far. So again, we have those earlier series if we want to reflect bigger picture on the role of the law. But let's dive in, and we'll kind of see how these laws set us up for things that are coming in the story to follow.

Section break (00:10:52)

Tim: The first block of covenant laws is the ten commandments. I mean, you don't get more iconic Bible language and imagery than the ten commandments, right?

Jon: Yeah. Hold on, before we jump into them, just situate me. We talked in the last episode of Moses went up and down the mountain seven times. And it's a little bit confusing. You kind of have to really pay attention to the whole progression. At some point on top of the mountain (00:12:00) on one of those trips he's orally given the ten commandments. 

Tim: Yeah. Yeah. The ten commandments are focused in on a moment in the story where it says when the trumpet was sounding stronger and stronger, Moses started speaking, and God responded with thunder and voice. And what is it that God said that freaked out the people so much? 

Jon: Oh, so is Moses down with the people at this point when he hears this?

Tim: Let's see. This is in Exodus 19:18. "The mountain was all smoke, there was sound and trumpet. Moses would speak and God would respond with thunder and voice …"

Jon: But where's Moses?

Tim: "... and Yahweh descended on Mount Sinai, he called the Moses who went up and then he said, 'Go back down and warn the people.'"

Jon: Up?

Tim: So yeah, this is Moses with the people. Oh, yeah. Because then as soon as God says this, there's going to be that flashback where then the people hear it and then they're like, "Dude, we are staying away (00:13:00) from that thing, whatever it is."

Jon: Okay. So it's go time. They're supposed to ascend the mountain, they don't. God calls Moses up, and then now this is when he's going to give them the ten commandments?

Tim: I think the way the narrative situates it is, this is when God comes down in cloud and fire on the third day, the ram's horn is sounding, going on, going on, and there's thunder and lightning, and they hear a voice. And Moses can hear it. And what he hears is the ten commandments. And then the people respond to that by saying, "We don't want to go up there."

Jon: Oh, okay. So he actually first hears the ten commandments at the base of the mountain with the people?

Tim: Correct, yeah.

Jon: Ah, okay. I didn't realize that.

Tim: At least I think if you meditate on the design of the narrative, I think ... In other words, that the people hear what Moses hears as the ten commandments. Whether they hear them as the commandments or just lightning and thunder, we don't know.

Jon: Okay. 

Tim: But it's hearing these words that (00:14:00) freak them out and make them not want to go up the mountain. 

Jon: They might be like Charlie Brown; they're just hearing like wah, wah, wah. 

Tim: Totally. So the Lord said to Moses, first command, "I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, you will have no other gods in front of me.” Now, that word "you shall have no other gods before me," I think that's kind of gotten metaphorized, turned into a metaphor. The way we think it say in English, we think of priority.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Like let's say you have a line of gods—

Jon: Yahweh should be at the front of the line. 

Tim: Yeah, totally. Again, there are multiple nuances that are possible, but it's the word "in front of me" which later in the biblical story, for example, when the Israelites are about to make a golden calf, it's literally down at the foot of the mountain in front of Yahweh up in the cloud. (00:15:00) And when Israel introduces idols into the temple, it's often either in the holy place right before in front of the holy of holies separated by the curtain or in the courtyard out in front of the door right into the temple. 

So I think "you shall have no other gods displayed in front of me," that's one possible. Or it could be that that "before" indicates priority. Or it could be that it is accomplishing both at the same time. But notice here "you shall have no other gods before me" is linked directly to the action of God. Who is Yahweh our God anyway? Well, he's the one who rescued us. So essentially it wasn't some other god like Baal or Marduk that rescued you. It was Yahweh. 

Jon: Wait, isn't this is plainly though just don't have any other gods? Or are you saying it's a little more nuanced than that? 

Tim: Oh, well, I'm just saying "no other gods before me" could refer to priority. Yeah, priority. (00:16:00) 

Jon: You could worship other gods but just make sure they're second tier. 

Tim: Oh, I understand. I understand. No, no, I don't think that's what it means. I see. I think I was unclear when I was talking about the priority. You could take it as priority in which case would be like, yeah, you know, Baal and Marduk, keep them in your back pocket but make sure I'm the first. As you read on it will become clear like, no, that's not what it means at all. 

What it means is no other gods in front of me. That is no other … And it connects to command two, which is don't make any idols. And where would you put an idol? Well, it would be in front of Yahweh, if you put it in the sacred space. Anyhow, more significant is that Yahweh is the one who rescued them out of Egypt. And that's what warrants Israel's trust and allegiance is that fact alone. That's the first command—no other gods. 

Second command is “don't make for yourself an idol or any image (00:17:00) of something in the skies above or that's on the land below or the water underneath the land.” Notice the three-tiered cosmos there. “You shall not worship them or serve them,” that is the idols, “for I, Yahweh your God, I'm a passionate”—often translated as jealous—"God, who visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children on the third and fourth generations of those who hate me but shows loyal love to thousands for those who keep my commands, and who love me.”

Jon: It's like a copy-paste from what we're going to see later, right? 

Tim: Yeah. God's going to re-quote these words to Moses in slightly different form after the Israelites make the golden calf. So no idols, no images. 

Jon: You know what? I always pictured this as don't make an image of Yahweh. But it's saying don't make an image of anything. Right? 

Tim: Hmm, yeah. Very interesting. (00:18:00) Well, don't make for yourself an idol or an image, and do not worship and serve them. So this was standard practice to do.

Jon: These would be the other gods. Like, "Don't have any other gods. And let me make it really clear, you're gonna be tempted to make an image of a cow or a bird …”

Tim: Or a human.

Jon: “... or a human, something in one of these three realms, and you're gonna want to worship it. That's what everyone else is doing because these things are connected to cosmic powers. And you're gonna want to connect yourself to them. But align yourself with me as the ultimate power." So these two ... And we talked about this. This is the first command or is this two commands? It kind of feels like almost kind of one command.

Tim: Oh, I see. Well, so don't make any idol image and don't worship them you're saying kind of seems like two commands?

Jon: Oh, strike that. But the first command and the second command feel like two sides of the same coin. (00:19:00) 

Tim: Exactly. No other gods in front of me and no idols through which you give your allegiance and worship to other gods. Notice also "don't make any idols of what's in the sky above." That could refer to birds. More likely it refers to the lights above: the sun, moon, and stars. Creatures on the land. Calves, for example. And then the creatures of the water beneath. So fish deities or … do you remember the sea monster? The Hebrew tannin—

Jon: That's a god. 

Tim: Yes. Yeah. In the great Babylonian creation stories, Marduk the patron god of Babylon defeats Tiamat, who is in the form of a great sea monster, who's a chaos deity. So there's deities above, below, and on the land that you're going to be tempted to make images of and then trust your future and your security to them (00:20:00) just like all your neighbors do. And I'm telling you, I'm the maker of sky, land, and sea.

In Deuteronomy, Moses is going to come back to this. He's going to say, "Listen, on the day that I showed up in the cloud and the fire, you didn't see any form. You didn't see like a dragon up there. What you saw was a cloud. So don't try and reduce the boundless transcendent creator of all, the donator of all being and sustainer of all.” To reduce that one to some item or being in creation, it's not just an insult, but it's actually to begin to invest a created thing with a kind of power over you that doesn't belong to that thing, it belongs to the creator of all. That's the logic here.

In our video on the image of God, we summarize this in a way (00:21:00) that stuck with me over the years. That humans were not to make any images of God because God's already made an image of God's self. I thought that's clever. 

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: That was your line. You came up with that.

Jon: Was it?

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: Was that my line?

Tim: You wrote that script. Yeah.

Jon: And that's even more fascinating when you think about God's … what you just said. God's transcendence cannot be formed into an image. Do not try to do it. Oh, by the way, that's you.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. God has already invested a creature with the role of representing—with the capability of representing the fullness of the divine character. And that's y'all. Because if you're making it, you're either gonna make an image of the sun, moon, and stars or you're going to make the image of an animal. And humans are not called … They're actually called to rule and have authority over creation. And you're going to (00:22:00) end up being ruled by the things that you are called to have responsibility over. 

Jon: Whoa, yeah. 

Tim: That's the irony here. All of that is underneath when God says, "Don't worship them because I the Lord your God am a jealous or a passionate God."

Jon: "I created you guys for purpose, and I'm passionate about that."

Tim: Exactly right. Yes. The jealousy isn't just like, "You're mine. Nobody else can have you." I mean, it is kind of like that but in the sense of—

Jon: Yeah, like a father with a son. 

Tim: Yeah, that's right. Like, "Listen, son, don't get hooked on meth; it'll rule you.” No, I'm serious. Man, I was just talking to somebody who's in public education here in Portland, and they were just talking about particularly the meth in certain communities here in Portland. And it's like poison that just hooks into all kinds of people. But when it (00:23:00) hooks a teenager it's just devastating. So it's like a parent jealously saying to their child, "Listen, stay away."

Jon: "You're meant for more than that."

Tim: "I am jealous for all that you can become. Just stay away from that thing because it will ruin everything." That's the image here. So that's the second command. Oh, we're not going fast here. Let's look at the third command here. “You shall not carry the name of Yahweh your God in vain.”

Jon: No cursing. 

Tim: What's that?

Jon: No cursing.

Tim: No cursing. “Because Yahweh will not declare innocent the one who carries his name in vain.” 

Jon: So you're translating "carry the name ..." I haven't seen you editing a document in real-time. 

Tim: Yeah, totally.

Jon: Because it said, "Take the name." And that's how it's usually rephrased. Don't take the name of the Lord, your God in vain. (00:24:00) And then what we typically think of is using God's name as a curse word. 

Tim: That's right. 

Jon: It gets really specific. 

Tim: Yeah, totally. That's right. Yeah, that's right. Most of our English translations, "take the name in vain," it's become English idiom for "use God's name in an insulting way." Once again, the challenge with that interpretation is it's not actually quite the meaning of the Hebrew verb that gets translated "take." It's the Hebrew verb "nasa." Actually, you transliterate it n-a-s-a.

Jon: Nasa. 

Tim: Nasa. And what it means is "to pick up."

Jon: Oh, well, that is really funny. 

Tim: Ain't that funny? Yeah. 

Jon: Nasa in Hebrew means "to pick up."

Tim: Nasa means to—

Jon: I know. But I'm just thinking like—

Tim: That was how I would remember it. 

Jon: Oh, that is so funny.

Tim: Yeah. So you're referring to the—what is it? In America, there's the National Administration of Science and Aviation.

Jon: Good work. Holy cow. 

Tim: Is that right? NASA.

Jon: NASA.

Tim: NASA. 

Jon: We send rockets to space. We lift them up. 

Tim: We take them up. (00:25:00) Lift them up. So "to lift up" means to carry. It's the normal Hebrew verb to pick up and carry. So you shall not carry the name of Yahweh your God in vain. So here, I'm just going to, one, link back to a conversation we had with a scholar on Exodus, Dr. Carmen Imes, who wrote an excellent book called Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters. It's a popular book form of her more technical dissertation, which you can also read. But she is making a robust case for what has been a minority interpretation of this command throughout history. It's not a new interpretation. It’s an old interpretation that "to carry the name" means to bear God's name in representing God. 

Jon: Yeah, to be his image. 

Tim: To be his image. Because this phrase "to carry the name" appears not very often. Man, one other time in the Exodus scroll a few chapters later referring (00:26:00) to the high priest, who literally carries the names of the tribes of Israel inscribed on stones on his breastplate.

Jon: As the image of the tribes.

Tim: As the representative image of the tribes. So here Israel is called to carry the name of Yahweh, and Israel's high priest is called to carry the name of the tribes into the presence of Yahweh. So that's what it means. I'm certain that that's what it means. Then it changes the meaning of the "in vain." Or it gives you, I think, a more robust sense of "in vain."

Jon: What's the Hebrew there for vain?

Tim: Yeah, towards a futile purpose. 

Jon: Okay. Take this seriously. 

Tim: You guys could carry the name of Yahweh but fail, totally fail, and fail to fulfill your purpose. 

Jon: This should have been the first of the commandments. It's kind of like the "Hey, guys, don't screw this up."

Tim: "Don't bear the name of Yahweh and fail to fulfill the purpose for why I'm giving it to you (00:27:00) in the first place. In other words, represent me well to the nations. I've invested my name in you. So the commands that are gonna follow, live by them, and you will faithfully represent and carry the name."

Jon: So these three are really nice setups for what become kind of more specifics, which is like, "This is serious. I am the only deity that matters. You are my image." I mean, it doesn't say that explicitly. "But don't create other images. This is serious. Don't do it in vain."

Tim: That's right. 

Jon: And then we're gonna launch into some really specific—

Tim: Yeah, specific ones. But just notice here—these first three commands we just went through, they're all really closely tied into the story around Yahweh came down in fire and cloud, not in the image of anything. So don't make an image. I'm the God who brought you out of Egypt, don't give your allegiance to any other gods. I'm letting you become a kingdom of priests, I want you to carry the name, so don't do it in vain. 

All three of them (00:28:00) are really tied in, which is, I think, just important these commands don't stand by themselves, even though nowadays they're often taken out and plugged into other contexts and made to serve other purposes. But originally, they were made to fit into the story.

Jon: They fit into this story and then they fit into the larger story as well. 

Tim: That's right. Okay, that's the first three commands. The next seven start to get a little more specific, and they kind of open up into other fascinating things going on in the Exodus scroll.

Section break (00:28:29)

Tim: We are going to continue our not-so-quick tour of the ten commandments. The goal up to this point has been to highlight the way the commands are really woven into the fabric of the Exodus scroll into their narrative context. 

And with the fourth command about the Sabbath, we're going to be seeing how the commands are woven into not just Exodus but to the whole of the Torah collection. And it's kind of obvious, actually, once you pointed out how the Sabbath command is woven in the wording of the command, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you will labor and do your work but the seventh is a Shabbat, a day of stopping of Yahweh your God. You will not do any work, neither you, your son, your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, your cattle, the immigrant who stays with you because … here's why. In six days (00:30:00) Yahweh made the skies and the land and the sea and everything in them and he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart. That's holy." Keep the Sabbath.

Jon: Keep the Sabbath. We've talked at lengths about the Sabbath and about the seven-day creation story. But when you say this ties it into the whole Torah, is that what you mean? Genesis 1—

Tim: There's an immediate connection to the Exodus story. That's like the most recent story. Because remember the first literary movement of Exodus went from the first sentence of Exodus 1:1. But then it culminated in the seven day celebration of Passover and Unleavened Bread. And you were told in Exodus 12 and 13 that on the first day of Passover you shall do no work because it's a sacred holy day. And on the seventh day—

Jon: It's like a bonus Sabbath. (00:31:00) 

Tim: Yeah, totally. Yeah, exactly. And on the seventh day, after that Passover Sabbath, then you shall do no work on that seventh day, too. So that culmination of the Exodus story with Passover and the seventh-day rest, and then they leave the land of Egypt, that night of rest is portraying the Exodus story as Israel's re-creation. It's as if in the middle of God de-creating Egypt he is also simultaneously creating a remnant people out of the destruction and giving them a little bit of Eden rest before they go into the wilderness. 

So the Sabbath command has actually already been prepped with Passover in the story of Exodus. But that story of Exodus was itself patterned all the way back on the first story of creation, and the provision of dry land and food (00:32:00) out of the chaos waters culminating in the seventh day. And that's the Genesis 1 story. And so the Sabbath command here in Exodus is tapping into both the Exodus creation-rest story and the Genesis 1 creation-rest story. And both have a key moment where they have parting of the waters.

Jon: Why wouldn't this command be about all the festival days? Like, keep all of the feast days and festival days as holy.

Tim: Well, they haven't been introduced yet. 

Jon: Passover was.

Tim: Oh, Passover was. Yeah, that's right. That's right. But it's actually only in two or three chapters later that the other three annual feasts are going to be talked about, the other spring feasts and the fall feast. So in narrative context, the other feasts haven't been introduced yet. 

Jon: Is there something specifically special about Sabbath even amongst all of the feasts? 

Tim: Well, it's the only one that's weekly. This is talking about the weekly rhythm. (00:33:00) Actually, another way the Sabbath command is woven into Exodus in particular—I forgot about this until you asked that question—is that ... Remember the mana story in the wilderness? 

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: That also is about collecting bread for seven days and on the seventh day you shabbat. It's the language of Sabbath and rest. So it's as if God has already been training Israel through the wilderness to live by this rhythm.

Jon: I see.

Tim: And now it's woven into the covenant, the terms of the covenant here.

Jon: This is going to set them apart and train them to be the kind of people God wants them to be in a very special way. 

Tim: Right. 

Jon: God didn't bring up Sabbath rest to any of Abraham's kids? 

Tim: Mm-mm. Nope. No. The Passover rest, you do no work, and then the seventh day after Passover, you do no work. That's the first time. And then the story about the mana in Exodus 16. And then here it's (00:34:00) as if those patterns that God has already been asking Israel to live by, now they get like codified into the term of the covenant.

Jon: Got it.

Tim: And in a way, the weekly Shabbat is the building block of the annual Shabbat rests that come in the feast days. I don't remember if I used this metaphor back in our podcast series on the seventh day. But the weekly Shabbat is kind of like the most basic Lego building brick. And I guess you could debate is that the two-by-two brick or the two-by-four brick?

Jon: The two-by-four brick is the basic brick.

Tim: Okay, yeah, that's the classic one. 

Jon: That's the classic brick. 

Tim: And we're referring to how many little pegs it has on top. Shabbat is kind of like that because the annual feasts are all going to happen in either the (00:35:00) first month of Israel's year or a multiple of seven times seven weeks after. The first Passover is in the first month. So Passover starts the 14th day of the first month. So two times seven, Sabbath. So you count two Sabbaths, you're into the Passover territory. Then you count seven times seven Sabbaths after Passover. And that's when—

Jon: Oh, I thought Passover was the very beginning of the year.

Tim: It is. That's right. 

Jon: But it's two weeks into the year. 

Tim: It's in the first month, and then, yeah, begins on the 14th, the night of the 14th. And then you count seven times seven Sabbaths after that, and that's when you get first fruits or Pentecost. And then you wait till the seventh month, and then you start … On the first day of the seventh month, that's new year, because remember their year is divided into two six months chunks. And each one of them could be called a new year. The first month and the seventh month, you both have new year celebrations. And it's one (00:36:00) liturgical calendar based on the ritual of Passover and one's like a farming calendar based on the agricultural year. But in the seventh month, you get the trumpets in the new year on the first, then you get the Day of Atonement, then you get Sukkot and Tabernacles. 

Jon: And we'll learn all about this in the Leviticus—

Tim: Leviticus dwells at length on these things.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: The point here is all of those larger feasts are just scaled out versions of the Shabbat. And the each one of them has a little bit of a different symbolism and nuance, but they're all scheduled by what Shabbat they're closest to or happen on. So it kind of makes sense that this weekly Shabbat would be the one in the ten commandments, which is kind of like the summary. You can't have any of the others without the weekly Shabbat; that’s the basic Lego brick. 

Jon: It makes sense.

Tim: Maybe let's just remember the work and rest (00:37:00) is fundamentally about God establishing a pattern for his image-bearing creatures that they don't live by their work alone, as it were. But what they live by is the generous presence and sustaining power of the creator. So by denying yourself productivity one day a week, you remind yourself that you are an image of Elohim not Elohim. 

Jon: This is interesting that in the ten commandments, the first three, we've already established a kind of a setup. Right?

Tim: Mm-hmm.

Jon: And then, when we get to the fourth command through the tenth, we're getting into the brass tacks. All right? Like, "Okay, you guys are in, you're gonna bear my name, let's get into it. All right, number one, chill out a little bit."

Tim: That's funny. Yeah. You know, people have made observations (00:38:00) about the shape of the commands for a long time. Because the first four you could say are God-oriented. Or even the first three specifically. So have no other gods is number one. Number two is no idols and don't worship them. And number three is don't bear the name of Yahweh in vain. Those all have to do with how you relate to Yahweh. And then the Sabbath day is done in imitation of God, but it's done communally. So you could say that that is a God-oriented one too even though it's a very specific practice.

Jon: Yeah, it's a very communal practice. I mean, it becomes the center of your life and community. 

Tim: Yep, that's right. 

Jon: That we're going to work on this rhythm. I guess I'm just saying that this is the covenant. This is like, "This is the kind of people I want you to be." The first three are just like establishing that fact. You know, you're mine. Let's do this. Take this seriously. All right, now, let's get into it. First thing, this doesn't depend on you, chill out a little bit. (00:39:00) 

Tim: Yeah, chill out. 

Jon: It kind of sets a nice tone. 

Tim: Yes.

Jon: Because it's gonna get intense. But the tone at the beginning is like just take a deep breath … 

Tim: You know I'm laughing so much because I've known and worked with you and been your friend for so long now. I also know that your temperament—you just like to chill out.

Jon: I do. I do. Good vibes only.

Tim: You've always appreciated the Sabbath command. It kind of aligns with your temperament a little bit. So that's why I was laughing. Yeah, yeah, chill out. Chill out. So it kind of becomes a bridge because between the first three were primarily about how Israel relates to Yahweh. Then with this one, it's how Israel together practices together a way of life that imitates Yahweh. (00:40:00) And that announces their dependance. 

What happens in the fifth command and what follows are real specific ways that the Israelites are to treat each other. The focus transitions from a God word orientation in commands one to four to neighbor orientation in five through ten. So that's kind of an interesting transition too. So in that sense, you could also say that it's command number five that's the pivot between—

Jon: Okay, that makes sense. 

Tim: Command number five—

Jon: And these commands, five through ten, these are the ones that if you ask someone, “List me the ten commands," these are the ones that they'll tell you.

Tim: Totally. So number five, honor your ma and pa, as it were.

Jon: You're referring to the cowboy ten commandments? 

Tim: Yeah, the cowboy commandments.

Jon: The cowboy commandments. 

Tim: We were at a restaurant, I think, once and—

Jon: Yeah, in Sandy, Oregon. 

Tim: Yeah, totally. 

Jon: You know, Calamity Jane's (00:41:00) is closed now. 

Tim: That's right. That's right. 

Jon: That was the restaurant: Calamity Jane's.

Tim: Yeah, yeah, just no longer with us. 

Jon: Just this classic place you stop and have a hamburger the size of your face on the way down the mountain.

Tim: Either up to the mountain or usually on the way down from skiing or snowshoeing or snowboarding.

Jon: Calamity Jane's. In the hallway they had the cowboy commandments. 

Tim: And the fifth one was honor your ma and pa.

Jon: Honor your ma and pa.

Tim: So honor your father and mother. And as the apostle Paul notes in his letter to the Ephesians, it's the first command that comes with the promise, like what will result if you do it. And it's the only one, actually, that comes with a result. Honor your father and mother so that your days might be long in the land which Yahweh your God has given you.

So honor your ma and pa so that your life may be long in the land. I don't know if you can hear a little Eden echo there. (00:42:00) Long life, having length of days in the promised land, that's a little Eden image right there. Eden was the place where God wanted to live with his people and give them length of days.

Jon: Where do you get the idea that they would have length of days in Eden?

Tim: Oh, it's this line right here in verse 12: "So that your days might become long in the land." And that phrase—

Jon: But in the Eden narrative proper … was that phrase used? 

Tim: It was eternal days.

Jon: Eternal days.

Tim: “Life unto the age.” So when the land of Canaan promised to the Israelites, promised to Abraham, when that is set alongside Eden as a parallel, there will be all kinds of parallels about fruitfulness in the land, garden imagery, fruit trees, fruitful and multiply. And then one of the ways that eternal life of Eden becomes echoed and paralleled in the land of Canaan in Israel's story is about long life in the land. It's a very common phrase (00:43:00) in the Torah to describe, hey, if you honor the covenant in the land, then I will give you length of days.

Jon: So why the focus on honoring your parents? 

Tim: Yeah, yeah.

Jon: You know whenever you see a sign, like you're in some public space, and it's like, "Hey, don't walk across this bridge" or just some random command, and you think to yourself, "Oh, someone once did that and it was a problem, and so they had to put up a sign."

Tim: Oh, sure. 

Jon: Was this a common thing where the kids would just be like, "Ah, screw my parents"? I kind of assume in an agriculturally based community that's very tight-knit and family-oriented, I mean, your family is everything. It's your security, it's your life insurance, it's your retirement. It seems like this would just be a no duh. 

Tim: Yeah, I hear that. And you're right. However, think back through the Genesis scroll, for example. How many stories focus on ways that children replay and intensify the failures of their parents, and sometimes actually bring the parents’ failure back on them by doing to their parents what their parents did to others?

When Cain murdered Abel, for example, it's also a wrong against his parents because it's their job. But more explicitly this is when Isaac tries to give, well, wants to give the firstborn blessing to Esau, and so Rebecca and Jacob swindle and put on a disguise and a deception. So they deceive their old blind father. And then Jacob's sons later do to him something similar by deceiving him by trying to murder their brother like Cain. (00:45:00) 

I think that's what's echoing in the background here is—just because someone lives in a tight knit, more traditional agricultural society doesn't mean that there weren't conflicts between children and parents. So that's one piece. And I think another piece here—I was thinking about this recently—is that in Genesis 5 when you get the first genealogy after Adam and Eve, there's interesting parallelism where it talks about the creation of ‘adam (humanity). 

It says, "In the day when God created ‘adam he made humanity in the likeness of Elohim." So the image of God, right? "He created them male and female, he blessed them and named them ‘adam (human) in the day they were created." Genesis 5:3. "Now when ‘adam lived 130 years ..." So we shifted from talking about using ‘adam as the species (human), which was male and female, and now we're shifting to the male ‘adam figure in story of Eden. (00:46:00) “When ‘adam lived 130 years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image. And he named him Seth." So you can see … Well, you can observe the analogy here. 

Jon: Yeah. In the same way that all humanity is made an image of God, there's a corollary idea … Is that the right word? Corollary?

Tim: Yeah, that's right. Parallel.

Jon: There's a parallel idea that Adam's son is made in his image. So one way to think about what does it mean to be made an image of God is a way to think about, well, what is a son to a father? 

Tim: Yeah, that's right. Or a daughter to a mother or children to their parents. Excuse me, or parents to their children. I got really confused. But yeah, you see the parallel here. So I think the fifth commandment assumes this connection right here. 

Jon: Okay, I like that.

Tim: That parents are to be an image of God's character to their children. (00:47:00) And when that relationship is healthy and working right, then the way children relate to their parents becomes an image of how they relate to God. I think that's what's underneath this here. 

Jon: Got it.

Tim: In other words, this is stating an ideal relationship. Ideally, parents image God well to their children, and children reciprocate by treating their parents with a kind of honor that is like unto or on analogy to the way that they would honor the one who gave them life. That is, their parents or their creator. I think that's what's going on.

Jon: Cool. That's cool.

Tim: After this you get a quick three commands. Each one of them is two words in Hebrew. They're really quick. I'll just read them for you because they're fun to read. I memorized these in my second year of Hebrew class. Lo tirzach, lo tinaph, lo tignov. Lo, lo, lo. The word "lo" is “no” in Hebrew. (00:48:00) So you will not murder. You will not commit adultery. You will not steal. It's a little triad there. 

Then what's interesting is after those three you get another set of three "you will nots" and all of them relate to the neighbor. And this is commands nine and ten. So number nine is you will not offer false witness against your neighbor. And then what's interesting is the tenth command is restated two times. The first is you will not covet the house of your neighbor, then you will not covet … Actually here. “Covet” is the classic English word. I'm turning this into my own translation on the spot here. It's the word "desire" from the garden—

Jon: Oh, yeah, desire. It's the same word that is used of the tree of good and bad.

Tim: When the woman saw that it was desirable for gaining wisdom. So misdirected desire. You shall not desire the house of your neighbor, (00:49:00) you shall not desire the wife of your neighbor, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. So I listed out there are seven things you are not to desire here.

Jon: Oh, yeah. 

Tim: So of course, they're seven. In other words, it's a complete statement. These seven things list a whole range. So the house that is like a state, the wife of your neighbor, which links back up to the do not commit adultery, his servants, his animals, and then the seventh thing is or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.

So commands six through ten are all woven real tight here. There's like the three short ones about murder, adultery, and stealing. And then commands nine and ten all name your neighbor. And they're all about being truthful with your neighbor, and then not desiring what your neighbor has. (00:50:00) 

Jon: These ones seem really practical. These are like if you're setting up an HOA, like you're gonna like … This is what you want all your neighbors to sign. Let’s not kill each other, let’s not like steal from each other—

Tim: Don't sleep around; tell the truth to each other.

Jon: Tell the truth to each other, let's not lie about stuff, and let's just be cool with each other. Let's be cool.

Tim: Yeah, totally. So you could argue that the deep moral logic underneath these is also all rooted back in the image of God. So to murder is to take the authority to declare that person by my will shall no longer live. That's a big claim that it is my judgment that this person shall live no longer. And within the logic of the biblical story, humans don't have that authority in and of themselves. 

Adultery is about (00:51:00) undermining the logic of the Eden story, about the one human becomes two so that the two can become one through covenant to create multiplication, fruitfulness, community, and family. And so adultery is seen at striking at the heart of the stability of human communities. I think it's less so in our cultural setting for lots of reasons.

Jon: I mean, it is, but less so. 

Tim: Yeah, it's still a big deal in our cultural setting, but I think it has a different type of … In other words, adultery, we see it as striking at the heart of someone's personal life or maybe their immediate family. 

Jon: Oh. But this actually is like an affront to the community, the fabric of the whole community. 

Tim: Yeah, in a very traditional society where extended family is everyone's safety net, to undermine even one marriage is to threaten the integrity of the (00:52:00) whole web of relationships. That's that one. Stealing, obviously. Oh, okay, you could say stealing actually is an affront not just to someone's dignity, but to their ability to rule as an image of God, don't you think? 

Jon: Tell me more about that. 

Tim: Well, so if you are stealing other people's things, people acquire possessions as they work and develop and spread responsibility. They work and then they're able to, whatever, build value, build wealth, build community, and invest in things. And so stealing strikes at the heart of the community of co-rulers, right? Because you're like, "I want the thing that you have, but I don't want to have to do the work that you invested to generate that value. I want to get the value by hijacking the system." I don't know, I'm just spit balling here. But I'm trying to use the image of God (00:53:00) in Genesis 1 as kind of like the deep foundation for these commands.

Jon: By taking something from someone without their permission, robbing them of that thing, you, at a deeper level, are taking away their ability to rule, to be the image of God. 

Tim: Or dishonoring the dignity that they've been given as a co-ruler and image of God. I think maybe what I'm trying to do here—I should say this explicitly, but I didn't think of it until now—is you can read these commands and just be like, "This is God's standard of moral perfection. Don't violate it." That's one way you could perceive this. But in both the Jewish and Christian traditions, there's a conviction that God's commands are given for our good, not just because God thinks this is good, but that it's actually for our good. 

So that's what I'm trying to play out here is that (00:54:00) the logic underneath these commands is actually about honoring the dignity and vocation that God has given to humans in the world. Don't offer false witness.

Jon: The way that that's phrased makes me think this is about courtroom kind of stuff. Like if there's a dispute, don't weave a tale and have someone get in trouble for something that is not their thing.

Tim: Yeah. This is another way that the ten commandments very clearly assume the cultural setting that Israel was in in its ancient context. So in a very traditional farming society that's a network of extended families, it's just very different than the court system as I think you and I imagine it in our culture today.

Jon: Right.

Tim: Because you know, if you take it to like the town hall, it's just different because everybody gathered there knows each other anyway, and they're all like related. (00:55:00) So when disputes are being settled, this, in similar truth, is like … It's the fundamental bridge through which all our relationships are interdependent on each other that we deal truthfully with each other. So just like adultery strikes at the heart of communal stability, so also not telling the truth in a dispute. It's a little more concrete than just "don't lie."

Jon: Yes. And what's cool about that is "don't lie" is tricky.

Tim: Yeah, sure. 

Jon: There's a thing called radical honesty where you're supposed to just never lie. 

Tim: Oh, man. 

Jon: And it gets so extreme to the point where it's like anything that comes to your mind you're supposed to say. But you can just imagine how horribly wrong that's gonna go, you know?

Tim: Totally.

Jon: Like we got to censor ourselves. I cannot verbalize every thought that goes through my head. That would be horrible. (00:56:00) And, you know, the classic like, how do I look? Or the classic Corrie ten Boom, you know—

Tim: Yeah, sure. Lying to save the lives of other people. 

Jon: Right.

Tim: Actually, let's just note that in the Torah scroll many times over people deceive in order to save life. Like in the case of the Hebrew midwives in the Exodus story—

Jon: Yeah, they lied.

Tim: They lie to Pharaoh, and it says very clearly this was because they feared God. And God treats them well and gives them houses and families because of their deceit. 

Jon: But there is something very disruptive about twisting reality and specifically when it's used to take advantage of people. So by phrasing it as false witness, you're setting the table for like when it comes to doing right by each other, making sure everyone gets his fair shake, (00:57:00) and everyone is accountable and responsible for reality, we have to then center everything in reality. Like, it's really important that you come and you say what actually happened.

Tim: The word "witness" there is key. You're right. Thinking of like local dispute in the town hall or in Israel, it would be like in the town gates where these things would happen. To be a witness is to be called into a dispute between two other people as a witness. When you're a witness, it's not you and some other person. It's you as a third party to somebody else's dispute. So here it is very much about … I like how you just said that. That the stability of a community of relationships depends on a shared sense of reality. And that we can depend on each other to tell the truth about the reality that we're experiencing. Otherwise, it just all begins to unravel.

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: Wow. That's powerful. (00:58:00) 

Jon: Right. I think we all feel it when that happens. The word "gaslighting" has become very popular in the last few years.

Tim: Sure. 

Jon: And it's this really amazing image … Do you know where it comes from actually?

Tim: I don't, I have no idea. 

Jon: I think it was a play where in the play there's a husband and a wife character. And part of the plot is that the husband is this very overpowering, you know, bad dude. It is a 1938 play called "Gas Light." Yeah, he manipulates his wife to make her think that she's losing her sense of reality by insisting that the gas light of the stove is on when it was off. 

Tim: No joke.

Jon: And he just keeps saying it's on even though it's off to the point where she starts to doubt her own sense of reality. "I don't see it as on, (00:59:00) but maybe I'm going crazy."

Tim: No way. So it's somebody else manipulating you by convincing you that something is there but really not.

Jon: It's someone who insists so much that something is a reality that's not a reality that you begin to doubt your own sense of being able to see reality.

Tim: Wow, okay. Wow, that's a very accurate term to describe what it means for us to live in America right now in the year 2022. I mean, so much of what's happening in our culture is about who is representing reality truthfully in our social, political, economic, whatever circumstances. Gaslighting. I didn't know that. That's it. You shall not gaslight your neighbor.

Jon: Do not gaslight. What's interesting about gaslighting is it gets to the motive. Because there's times where it's like, you know, I'm in a debate or an argument with my wife and we see things (01:00:00) from different points of view, but we actually really experienced it differently. 

Tim: That's right. Sure. 

Jon: One thing happened, we experienced it completely differently. And we're not trying to manipulate each other, we're just trying to be heard and understood, and we feel affronted that the other person didn't see it the way we saw it. And that happens so much. 

Tim: It sure does. That's right. So in that scenario, it's about sympathetic listening. Because probably we both have things to learn from each other's different experiences that will help us get to the heart of the matter so that I can see elements of what the other person saw that I didn't notice and vice versa. And then both of us get one step closer to ultimate reality. 

Jon: Right. Yeah. Thou shalt sympathetically listen. And what's interesting here is this is like taking a step farther than that and saying, like, when you know how something actually went down, (01:01:00) don't twist it to take advantage of something or someone. 

Tim: Yeah, that's right. 

Jon: And that's in the territory of actually gaslighting. 

Tim: Yeah, that's right. Wow. Wow. You know, in a way I'm thinking forward here to Sermon on the Mount when Jesus talks about how—

Jon: Oaths.

Tim: Well, first, just how he talks about the greater righteousness that he's calling his disciples to live by—a higher more sublime way to do right by God and neighbor. And he gives six case studies. And one of them is about using oaths or promise formulas in order to manipulate others that you are being more truthful than you actually are. In a way, he's kind of refracting the ideas at work here in the ninth command, which is don't offer false witness. 

Section break (01:01:48)

Tim: Tenth command: you shall not desire the house, wife, male servant, female servant, ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Jon: I can't control what I desire. My desires just appear. Isn't it more important what I do with my desire? 

Tim: Well, okay, that's an interesting question. Oh, man, this is a whole rabbit hole, isn't it? Because I think the question is, maybe we can't control our desires. But the question is, is the only thing that we can do is just like discipline how we react to them? Or is it actually possible over time through … 

Jon: To cultivate our desire.

Tim: … habit-forming practices to cultivate and direct our desires so that some (01:03:00) diminish and that others grow. And this is a fascinating area where brain science, social science, and spiritual formation I think all kind of come together. When I think back to what I desired in life, when I first started following Jesus and what my desires are now, and there's been a lot of changes through there in terms of like my body, and my community, and my own moral development and so on, all these things. But I don't know, I think when God is saying, hey, there are some things that if you desire them they will start to distort your view of yourself and everything. Don't desire these things. 

You know about this? This is a brain science thing about people who smile as a practice tend to be more happy people.

Jon: Yeah, I've heard that.

Tim: People who develop practices of gratitude, verbally expressing gratitude tend to actually over time start to feel more grateful. I wonder if there's something similar here.

Jon: Yeah. (01:04:00) If you let yourself every day just kind of mourn and get jealous and think about and dwell on what other people have that you don't have, it's just gonna put you in a bad place. 

Tim: It will direct your desires. It will shape them.

Jon: It will shape your day. 

Tim: Your mood, how you view—yeah, that's right—yourself, other people.

Jon: All your decisions. It's just like … yeah.

Tim: Man, the flip side of this, there's kind of an implied positive, right? So the implication of not desiring what your neighbor has, the flip side is be grateful for what you do have, right? 

Jon: Or what Jesus says, "Not my desire, but your desire."

Tim: Yeah, that's right.

Jon: It seems like that's the big cash out in this whole thing. How do you align your desires with God's desires? 

Tim: And what if God's desires (01:05:00) are actually for my best good? But it might require a redirection and a retraining of my desire. Man, this is a huge biblical theme that we could talk about for a lot longer. 

Jon: But we are out of time. We didn't get to the 42 covenant commands. 

Tim: No, we didn't. No. We could just go a lot longer. This is meditation literature. So bigger picture here. So we just kind of meditated our way through the ten commands. And the reason they're first is surely because they offer kind of an essential summary of the will of God for his covenant partners, specifically his ancient Israelite covenant partners living in their ancient cultural context, which is why that context is assumed in every one of the commands and how it's worded. So this is matched by 42 more. 

And remember, all of these commands come as the development (01:06:00) of the test, the choice that lay before Israel about whether or not they're going to live out their calling, bear the name of Yahweh successfully by becoming a kingdom of priests, and to set apart holy people among the nations so that the nations can look on them and see the character of God or an image of God. So living by these commands, once again, is not just to make God happy, but it's how they will fulfill their mission to be an image of God to the nations. And there you go.

Jon: Cool. There you go.

Tim: That was our exploration of the test through the second literary movement of Exodus. 

Jon: So that was it. That was the end of the literary movement known as the second movement in Exodus. We don't really name these, do we? 

Tim: We are spanning from Exodus 13:17, which is the moment they leave (exodus). And now here we are at Mount Sinai, Israel has said yes to the terms of the covenant, (01:07:00) and Moses their mediator ascends up to the top of Mount Sinai, goes into the cloud through a wall of fire on the seventh day. And he's up on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. And the second movement comes to a close.

Jon: And the third movement picks up here. We're going to get the tabernacle blueprints. We're gonna get the golden calf story, and we're gonna trace a new pattern. 

Tim: There you go. 

Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode of BibleProject podcast. We just reached the end of the second movement of the Exodus scroll. There is one more movement to go in Exodus.

Tim: So we'll get into all these details even more as we go through it. But that's the big idea that this third movement is God has liberated his people through movement one, liberated them out of slavery. Movement two has taken them through the deadly wilderness and brought them to himself on a mountain. And on top of that mountain is a Heaven and Earth spot, and since the people are not all going to be up on top of the mountain, God is going to take (01:08:00) the Eden presence on top of the mountain and bring it down to the foot of the mountain where the people are. And that's what the third movement is all about. Out of slavery, through the wilderness, and into God's presence. 

Jon: Today's episode was produced by Cooper Peltz, edited by Frank Garza, and Dan Gummel our lead editor. Lindsey Ponder did the show notes, and Ashlyn Heise annotated the podcast for the app. BibleProject is a nonprofit. We exist to experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus. Everything that we make is free because of the generous support of thousands of people just like you. So thank you so much for being a part of this with us.

12 Episodes

Episode 12
Did God Try To Kill Moses?
Why did God say he was going to kill Moses? What exactly was God’s test for Abraham on Mount Moriah and Israel on Mount Sinai? What’s the connection between the ten plagues and the Ten Commandments? In this episode, Tim and Jon respond to your questions about the Exodus scroll. Thanks to our audience for your incredible questions!
1hr 13m • Jun 22, 2022
Episode 11
Two Takes on the Test at Mount Sinai
Did Israel pass or fail God’s test at Mount Sinai? And what did Yahweh mean when he made Israel a “nation of priests”? In this episode, Tim and Jon talk with long-time friend and Hebrew Bible scholar Dr. Carmen Imes. Tim and Carmen share differing interpretive perspectives of the Exodus story, reminding us that the Bible is meant to be meditated upon and studied within a community.
1hr 2m • May 23, 2022
Episode 10
Why Moses Couldn’t Enter the Tabernacle
In the second movement of Exodus, Moses walks straight into God’s fiery presence on Mount Sinai without fear. But by the end of the scroll, he can’t enter God’s presence. What changed? In this episode, join Jon and Tim as they explore the final portion of the third movement of Exodus.
52m • May 16, 2022
Episode 9
Why Does the Tabernacle Furniture Even Matter?
Why does God seem to care so much about the furniture within the tabernacle? The instructions for the tabernacle furniture are about far more than aesthetics. They were means of dealing with Israel’s moral brokenness, they served as reminders of Eden, and they were designed to form Israel into a people of perpetual surrender. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they continue to trace the theme of the temple in the third movement of Exodus.
1hr 1m • May 9, 2022
Episode 8
What’s So Special About the Tabernacle?
You may have heard that God’s holiness keeps him from getting close to sinful humanity, but in the Bible we see God regularly doing the opposite, drawing near to dwell with human beings. We encounter this reality again and again, including in a surprising place—the tabernacle blueprints. In this episode, join Jon and Tim as they walk through the opening act of the third movement of Exodus and explore the relationship between the tabernacle, the garden of Eden, unconditional love, and eternal life.
1hr 17m • May 2, 2022
Episode 7
What Are the Ten Commandments All About?
We often think of the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts—the things you need to do to make God happy. But is that what they’re really about? In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they take a deep dive into the Ten Commandments and find out why they’re more about preserving proper worship of Yahweh and the shared dignity of humans.
1hr 10m • Apr 25, 2022
Episode 6
Testing at Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai is the famous spot where Yahweh gives Moses the Ten Commandments, and it is the location where most of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and the first 10 chapters of Numbers take place. When Israel first arrives at Sinai, they fail yet another test and try to get Moses to pass it for them. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they explore Yahweh’s fiery presence, the test at Sinai, and the question of Israel's national identity: Will they be the kingdom of priests Yahweh intends?
1hr 3m • Apr 18, 2022
Episode 5
Israel Tests Yahweh
The nation of Israel seems to go from one life-threatening situation to another in the Exodus scroll. From slavery in Egypt to being cornered between a hostile army and a vast body of water, Israel’s God has delivered them from everything so far. Now in the wilderness, they face a series of three tests. Will they trust Yahweh to deliver them again? In this episode, Tim and Jon explore Israel’s testing in the wilderness.
1hr 12m • Apr 11, 2022
Episode 4
God Tests His Chosen Ones
Nobody likes tests. But the test is a recurring pattern in the biblical story for how God relates to his chosen ones. So are humans just lab rats in a divine experiment, or is there something else going on? Join Tim and Jon as they talk about the theme of the test and the famous account of Israel crossing the Sea of Reeds, as we dive into the second movement of the Exodus scroll.
1hr 3m • Apr 4, 2022
Episode 3
Why Are There 10 Plagues?
The ten plagues—they’re fascinating, they’re famous, and they sometimes seem overly harsh. Where do they fit in the story of the Bible and the process of God revealing his own name and character? In this episode, Tim and Jon talk about the ten plagues, or ten acts of de-creation, in which Yahweh uses his power over creation to undo his own creation in judgment. Listen in as we explore how God’s response to evil reveals another layer of his character.
1hr 1m • Mar 28, 2022
Episode 2
Yahweh and the Exodus
The story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt is famous for good reason—a burning bush, a transforming staff, 10 plagues, and the Passover. The exodus is also the story that defines God’s personal name, Yahweh. What does this narrative show us about Yahweh? And why does God care so much that people know his name? In this episode, Tim and Jon talk about God’s character revealed through his acts of deliverance and judgment.
1hr 6m • Mar 21, 2022
Episode 1
“God” Is Not a Name
God is not a name—it’s a title. In fact, the God of the Bible introduces himself by a specific name in one of the most famous stories in the Bible, the exodus event, when he works through Moses and Aaron to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt. In this episode, Tim and Jon dive into the first movement of the Exodus scroll and explore the theme of God’s name.
1hr 6m • Mar 14, 2022
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