Most people are unaware that there is another set of commandments that are also called the Ten Commandments. In fact, there are three sets of Ten Commandments; however, two of these sets are remarkably similar and differ little. These three Ten Commandments can be referred to as the Ethical Decalogue in Exodus, the Ethical Decalogue in Deuteronomy, and the Ritual Decalogue. The word "Decalogue" simply means "Ten Commandments". This article will be discussing how the Ritual Decalogue came about and why it is should be seen as the covenant that was supposed to exist between God and the Israelites in the Bible.
The story of God's covenant with the Israelites begins in Exodus 19 when God tells Moses to prepare himself for climbing Mount Sinai to receive the laws. For the next four chapters, God gives Moses his laws for the Israelites, including the Ethical Decalogue. In Exodus 25, Moses comes down and tells the people all of what he heard and the people respond that they will do everything that is commanded of them. "Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said" (Exodus 25:4). Moses then took what he wrote (it is called the Book of the Covenant), read it again to the people, and sprinkled blood from a sacrifice on the people. Moses calls this the covenant that God has made with the Israelites. Moses then climbs Sinai again and God gives him tablets of stone that have the laws and commandments written on it. Moses talks with God for forty days.
When Moses returns, the Israelites are worshipping the golden calf, so Moses breaks the tablets of stone. After a massacre of three thousand lead by the Levites (those who were soon to be the priests) and a plague sent by God, Moses returns to Sinai and God tells him to create two stone tablets like the first ones. God says that he will write on them again. God gives Moses new commandments, which begin at Exodus 34:11. After the new Ten Commandments, which end at Exodus 34:26, God tells Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel" (Exodus 34:27).
Clearly, a close reading of Exodus shows that the Ten Commandments that are discussed in churches and meeting places as the covenant between God and the Israelites was the failed covenant between God and the Israelites, which led to the second covenant, the Ritual Decalogue.