Many scholars have understood that the passages in which the ten commandments are given resemble certain kinds of treaties, such as Assyrian and Hittite vassal-suzerain treaties. As Collins points out, these “are not made between equal partners but involve the submission of one party (the vassal) to the other (the suzerain)” (p. 64, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible).

There are several components to these types of treaties. For example, the suzerain would demand that the vassal serve no other overlord (Collins, p. 67), which is precisely what we find in the first commandment.

In the treaties, there would often be an introduction that names the suzerain and describes the historical context, as we find when we read: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exod. 20:2). Further, this follows the same logic as the treaties. “The Isrealites are obligated to obey the law because of what God has done for them in bringing them out of Egypt” (Collins, p. 65-66), just as a vassal might be compelled to serve a suzerain in return for military protection.

The major part of the treaty is the portion that holds the requirements or terms. “These are often couched in highly personal terms. An Assyrian king, Esarhaddon, demands loyalty to his son Ashurbanipal by telling his subjects, ‘You will love as yourself Ashurbanipal’ ” (Collins, p. 65).

The message is clear. The Israelites may have their own kings, but they are still subject to God. The authors are using a recognizable form of writing to further illustrate relationship between God and the Hebrews. Or, if you prefer, “when God establishes His covenant with Israel, He does so using a legal language that they could understand” (p. 108,Geoghegan and Homan, The Bible for Dummies).