Exodus 20-23

In the following article you will find a brief commentary on Exodus 20-23 that goes along with our Riverside Church Two Year Bible Reading Plan (Volume 1 & Volume 2).  This plan will allow you to read the New Testament and Psalms once every year and the Old Testament once every two years.

The Book of the Covenant

This section of Exodus, chapters 20-23, contains “The Book of the Covenant” (Exodus 24:7).  Included are some very important elements:

  • The 10 commandments (20:1-21)
  • Regulations for worship (portions of chapter 20 and 23)
  • Case Law for community life (chapters 21-23) 

The 10 commandments are obviously foundational in every respect and summarize the heart of God’s law.  We should not view them as simply 10 rules; they instead reflect God’s very character and provide a basic overview of our relationship with Him and with our fellow humans.

“We understand… more clearly when we realize that the various moral laws of God are simply different aspects of his perfect moral character, to which he expects us to conform.  To violate any one part of it is to become unlike him.  For example, if I were to steal, I would not only break the commandment against stealing (Commandment 8), but I would also dishonor God’s name (#3)…, dishonor my parents and their good name (#5), covet something that does not belong to me (#10), put some material possession ahead of God himself…  With a little reflection, we can see how almost any sin violates some of the principles embodied in each of the 10 Commandments.  This is simply a reflection of the fact that God’s laws are a unified whole and reflect the moral purity and perfection of God himself in the integrated oneness of his person.”  (Wayne Grudem; Systematic Theology)

We see in the Case Law portions an expansion of what is commanded, and the additional material is instructive.  We discover, for example, that the proper punishment for theft is restitution.  “When the crime is theft, restitution most directly preserves the notion of justice”  (D.A. Carson; For the Love of God, Volume I).  The implications for family and government are far reaching.

The section ends with two assurances from God: First, he will be present with them in the form of an angel, and second, their covenant is sealed with a meal.  We see here strong foreshadowing of New Testament realities.

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