Ex 19:1-24:11

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Home > The Old Testament > Exodus > Chapters 19-24a / Verses 19:1-24:11
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Relationship to Exodus. The relationship of Chapters 19-24a to the rest of Exodus is discussed at Exodus.

Outline. An outline of the complete book of Exodus, including Chapters 19-24a, is found at Exodus: Outline and page map.

Story. Chapters 19-24a consists of three major sections:

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 19-24a include:


This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →

  • Ex 20:1-5: Before me. It seems that, in Hebrew, the word "before" (paniym) has the same ambiguity as in English—the other gods could be thought of before God in the sense of "taking precedence" over God, or as being simply being before God as in being in his presence. (See the NET note on this passage for more.)
  • Ex 20: The Ten Commandments and Zion. Portions of the Ten Commandments appear three times in the Doctrine & Covenants in connection with the establishment of Zion. (D&C 42:18-42 (discussion); 59:5-14; 68:29). The Ten Commandments also form much of the structure around which the gospel standards in the Sermon on the Mount are organized. (Matthew 5-7 (discussion) and (discussion of Third Nephi 12-14)). They are also quoted by Abinadi to king Noah. (Mosiah 12:33-36; 13:12-24). This suggests that the Ten Commandments are not some low minimal standard of behavior that were as much as the rebellious Israelites at Mount Sinai could handle. Rather, when the spirit of the Ten Commandments is understood, they constitute a high standard of conduct, the standard taught by Christ's gospel, and the standard needed to achieve Zion.
  • Ex 20: On ten versus seven commandments. The traditional numbering of the commandments in this chapter is, of course, ten. Other scripture seems to support such a numbering (all biblical--penteteuchal, in fact: Ex 34:28, Deut 4:13, and Deut 10:4). However, there is, within this text itself, a possible interpretation that would render the commandments a list of seven (or perhaps six). The fruitfulness of such a reading is great, but might only be explored after the possibility is established.
Such a reading begins with the complexity of the first eleven verses of the chapter: it is--has been, historically--difficult to decide exactly where "one" commandment begins and "another" ends. The first four commandments seem to run into each other, etc. It has, in fact, been pointed out often that the first four are of one character, while the remaining six have a very different meaning. All of this suggests, at the very least, that the first four commandments ought to be considered very carefully, whereas the six commandments that begin in verse 12 are so perfectly listed that there is little reason to complicate them.
The first three commandments essentially establish the relation between God and the people (as does the fourth, though in a different manner). It has been suggested by some scholars, in fact, that these first commandments were written specifically for the priesthood (this might be corroborated by both D&C 59 and Abinadi's speech concerning the commandments). If the first commandments (the first three?) establish the role of the priesthood as mediating God and Israel, then the fourth commandment establishes (as the commandment concerning the sabbath--and, by extension, all the holy days and ritual cycles of Israel) the cultic complex that grounds that mediation. In other words, the fourth commandment, concerning the sabbath, seems to mark a transition from the first three commandments to the last six.
If this transition is well read, it might be noted that that very commandment makes something of the numbers seven and six. By setting apart the seventh, it leaves over the six days of work. It is most interesting that it is then followed by six commandments, all of which are understood to be the commandments concerning interpersonal relations. In other words, the mention of six days of normal, everyday work is followed by six specific tasks that are to make up the everyday fare of the Israelites. The connection is suggestive, and seems to be most fruitful.
  • Ex 21:2: Servant. In Hebrew the word translated as "servant" by the KJV is `ebed which is also translated as "slave" or "bondsman." The term "servant" is misleading to the extent that this passage is understood as something other than a slave-master relationship. On the other hand, Hebrew slavery was not chattel slavery on the model of the American South. Rather, being a slave was a particular legal status that involved the loss of most legal rights, but did not constitute the legal conceptualization of the slave as a thing rather than a person.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

This section is for prompts that invite us to think about a passage more deeply or in a new way. These are not necessarily questions that beg for answers, but rather prompts along the lines of "Have you ever thought about ..." Prompts are most helpful when they are developed individually, thoughtfully, and with enough background information to clearly indicate a particular direction for further study or thought. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →

  • Ex 21:6: What does this verse tell us about the Master-Servant relationship? Do the prophets ever use this ritual as a metaphor in describing our relationship with God?
  • Ex 21:6: What symbolism might be involved in this ritual of piercing the ear?
  • Ex 22:29: According to this passage, child sacrifice was acceptable and even commanded of the LORD for the children of Israel. This seems to contradict later writings in the Old Testament which talk about people passing their children through the fire as sacrifices as being an abomination before the LORD. This could mean that the law was later altered (no pun intended), or that the children of Israel did sacrifice their children, but in a corrupt way to corrupt gods who were not the LORD. This verse also seems to point back to an earlier Abrahamic tradition of sacrificing the firstborn son. Some Hebrew traditions of that story talk about how Abraham actually did kill Isaac and then the Angel came and resurrected him. So perhaps this is an ordinance of sorts that has been completely lost or corrupted. Obviously nowadays the idea of killing one's firstborn son is horrifying and immediately dismissed as evil, but then, isn't that what God did?


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Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.

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