Exodus 20:3

לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, עַל-פָּנָי

יִהְיֶֽה verb qal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular Ed:BHS has been faithful to L (the Leningrad Codex) where there might be a question of the validity of the form and we keep the same form as BHS.

  1. Why is the qal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular used instead of the 2nd person masculine singular, since the other commandments use the 2nd person masculine singular?

  2. Since the first commandment is reiterated and repeated word for word in Deuteronomy 5:7 in the 3rd person masculine singular, should I question (as the editor note informs) whether the Leningrad and the BHS text ought to be followed in this place?

  • I think this is the normal Hebrew usage of יהיה. Compare for example Isaiah 60:19 he.wikisource.org/wiki/…. I'm not completely sure why it works that way in Hebrew, but the word לך right after the word יהיה makes it clear that it's addressed to the 2nd person.
    – Bach
    Jun 23, 2020 at 14:49
  • 1
    Question is unclear. The MT texts are MT Exodus 20:2 and MT Deut 5:6. These verses are identical as you note, but your question appears to be about some difference. If there is a difference in some MSS, then please cite that MSS and quote the textual difference in your post. יהיה is indeed a 3rd person singular abstract (נסתר) form referring to אלוהים אחרים, which is singular in meaning (deity) despite the plural form of the phrase. The meaning is not "you will not have other gods" but "you will not have another deity".
    – user17080
    Jun 26, 2020 at 8:27
  • @AbuMunirIbnIbrahim It is interesting what you say. 'Despite the plural form'. Would you say that the word is a 'collective' noun. Or a 'composite' noun ? Does the word mean 'deity', speaking of divine nature, in the same way that 'humanity' refers to human nature (one nature, but a plurality of persons) ?
    – Nigel J
    Jul 1, 2020 at 7:12
  • 1
    @NigelJ אלוהים is sometimes specific reference to a universal God, sometimes to the particular God of Israel, and sometimes used to indicate the gods of the nations, and sometimes used as an abstract term for someones "religion" or object of worship whether singular or plural. It is not a composite noun or even a collective, but more "humanity" or "theology", a very colloquial word. You need to learn large parts of the MT by heart to get the sense in which the word is used, as it is unlike any term we have today. In the OT, everyone, Israelite or not, had an אלוהים, a deity or religion.
    – user17080
    Jul 1, 2020 at 19:20

1 Answer 1


There is no verb in Hebrew that means "to have". To express "have" in Hebrew one would say that there is "something to someone". This is why the Hebrew is לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ, "(It/Him) shall not be to you". This is how to say "You shall not have (it/him)" in Hebrew. If the verb were in second person then the prohibition would mean "You shall not be other gods to yourself". The problem with the form is not with the person of the verb but the number. The verb is expected to be plural rather than singular. Since the prohibition concerns "other gods", we would expect the text to say "(They) shall not be to you" rather than "(It/Him) shall not be to you."

Why is the singular used? In his Exodus commentary, Umberto Cassuto suggests that the verb is singular in order to say that they could not have even one other god, and the word “gods” is plural to include any gods. This is just a suggestion.

  • I am on the verge of up-voting. Just need a link or two, a reference here or there.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 24, 2020 at 10:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.