Moses receives the Ten Commandments

Ex 18:1-27    Jethro – Moses’ father-in-law - visits Moses as the Israelites pass through Midian en route to Mt Horeb (see 8 on Map 44). Moses appoints judges to hear the Israelites’ minor grievances.

Ex 19:1-25    Exactly three months after leaving Egypt, the Israelites reach the Sinai Desert. They spend two days preparing to meet God at the ‘mountain of God’ (known as Mt Horeb, Mt Sinai or Gebal Mousa – The ‘Mountain of Moses’).


Mount Sinai

Gebel Mousa - the 'Mountain of Moses'  (Muhammed Moussa)


Ex 20:1-26    On the third day, Moses receives the Ten Commandments on Mt Sinai (near to where God appeared to Moses in the burning bush some six years earlier – see Exodus 3:1). (See the feature on Mt Sinai earlier in this section.)


The Ten Commandments

When God spoke to Moses on Mt Sinai in c1446BC, he gave Moses a set of ten guidelines by which the Israelites could live their lives in a way pleasing to God. These guidelines formed part of the solemn covenant agreement (or ‘testament’) between the Israelites and God (also known as ‘The Law’ or ‘The Law of Moses’). In this agreement or ‘covenant’, God promised to bless the Israelites. They, for their part, agreed to follow in God’s ways.

God’s guidelines for righteous living are known as the ‘Ten Commandments’. Scholars refer to them as the 'Decalogue'. These instructions cover both the religious and the secular aspects of life – how to worship God and how to live in harmony with family, friends and the rest of society. They have formed an effective guide to godly living for over three thousand years:

1.    Don’t worship any other god - just me.

2.    Don’t make anything or anyone into an idol - and don’t worship them.

3.    Don’t misuse God’s name or do evil in God’s name.

4.    Don’t do your usual work on the seventh day of each week - treat it as a special holy day (a ‘holiday’).

5.    Always show respect to your parents.

6.    Don’t murder anyone.

7.    Don’t commit adultery by having sex with anyone other than the person you’re married to.

8.    Don’t steal from anyone.

9.    Don’t tell lies about someone else.

10.  Don’t be envious of anyone’s house, their partner, or anything they own.

The Ten Commandments in Hebrew






A decalogue parchment by
Jekuthiel Sofer (1768)
with the Ten Commandments
in Hebrew, displayed at the
Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana
in Amsterdam





Comparisons have been made between the Law of Moses and earlier law codes such as that of the Babylonian King Hammurabi (dating from c.1600BC), which was probably well-known by Moses as a young prince in Egypt. The ‘eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ principle of the Mosaic Law (see Exodus 21:24), for instance, has an earlier parallel in the Hammurabi law code. This states: ‘If a man has destroyed the eye of a man of equal status, they shall destroy his eye…If he has knocked out the tooth of a man of equal status, they shall knock out his tooth’.


Ex 21-23    Moses receives further laws and guidance on religious festivals.


Jewish Religious Festivals

The Israelites were commanded to celebrate three annual religious festivals (see Exodus 23:14-19). These were the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost) and the Feast of Ingathering (Tabernacles).

Unleavened Bread (Passover or Pesach), held in the first month of the Jewish religious calendar, was initiated to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt in c.1447BC when the LORD led his people out of slavery (see Exodus 12:1-20). The Jews ate unleavened bread (bread made without yeast) to remember that the Israelites did not have time to let their bread rise before leaving Egypt. The first day of the festival was called Passover or Pesach because the Israelites smeared blood on their doorposts so the Angel of Death would pass over and not harm their first-born. In commemoration of the Passover, each family killed and roasted a sacrificial lamb whose blood saved them from death.

A Haggadah for celebrating Passover








A 14th century German
Haggadah with the
traditional text
used for
celebrating Passover






The festival was celebrated between mid-March and mid-April. The final day of the festival was called Firstfruits. On this day, the first sheaves of the barley harvest were presented to God.

Weeks (Pentecost, Harvest or Shavuot) was the main harvest festival, celebrating the end of the wheat harvest. It was held seven weeks after the first barley harvest (see Exodus 34:22). As it was fifty days after Passover, it became known as Pentecost (‘penta’ signifies fifty). It usually occurred in late May or early June.

Ingathering (Tabernacles or Sukkot). This celebrated the gathering in of the grapes, figs and olives that had ripened during the dry summer months. It was an autumn harvest festival held in late September or October. The feast also commemorated the time when the Israelites escaped from Egypt. Having no permanent homes, they pitched their tents (tabernacles) or temporary shelters wherever they found sufficient water or grazing for their livestock (see Exodus 17:1). It is usually celebrated between mid-September and mid-October.


Ex 24:1-18    God appears to Moses and Aaron and to seventy elders on Mt Sinai. Moses experiences the glory - the shining presence or ‘Shekinah’ - of the LORD in a cloud covering the top of Mt Sinai (see 1 Kings 8:10-11).

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