The Decalogue (Deut 5:1-5:22)

“Moses convened all Israel, and said to them. ‘Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances that I addressing to your ears today. You shall learn them and observe them diligently. Yahweh our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our ancestors did Yahweh make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive this today. Yahweh spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire. At that time I was standing between Yahweh and you to declare to you the words of Yahweh. You were afraid because of the fire and you did not go up the mountain. ”

Now begins the ‘shema’ or the request, ‘Hear, O Israel’ that becomes an important part of Israelite life. The Israelites must listen and follow. There is a great emphasis on Yahweh with his voice in the fire. Moses speaks as if the listeners were at Horeb (Sinai), when in fact they had died out and the new generation is listening. They must listen and follow the commandments diligently. This covenant and ordinances of Mt. Horeb can be compared to the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai in Exodus, chapter 20, since they are exactly the same. I will point out the minor differences.

“He said. ‘I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”

1)                  This is the first commandment. There is some confusion since this might be part of a preamble. In other words, Yahweh is the number one God because there may be others behind him since no other gods should come before him. However, Yahweh saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The big dispute about the 10 Commandments begins here. Originally these commandments may have been simple short utterances. The first 3 are about relationships to God, and they are fairly complex, while the next 7 are about how you are to conduct yourself with your neighbor.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them. I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of their parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me. However, I show steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

1b or 2a) Here comes the second part of the first commandment or is it the second commandment? Is this the 2nd commandment or part of the 1st commandment? In any case it is very long. Do not make any idols. Do not worship false idols. You cannot have any forms or image for God, neither earthly nor heavenly items, as well as items from the sea. This jealous Yahweh God becomes the basis for the monotheism of the Judaic, the Christian, and the Muslim concepts of God. He will reward and punish in future generations. This is a repetition of what he just saw in the preceding chapter 4.

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not accept anyone who misuses his name.”

2b or 3) This is relatively simple. However, is this statement a separate commandment? The normal translation of this is not to take the name of God in vain. You should not misuse the name of God. Somehow this has become known as swearing.

“Observe the Sabbath day. Keep it holy, as Yahweh your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You shall not do any work that is you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your ox, or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns. Your male and female slaves may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. Yahweh your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore Yahweh your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”

3)                  The Sabbath statement is more elaborate here than in Exodus. However, it also starts with a simple admonition. Do not work on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not so much a day of worship but a day of rest from work for the whole household, even the slaves, aliens, and livestock. There is no reference to the Genesis creation story as in Exodus. Instead there is a strong emphasis on the flight from Egypt, and how the Israelites were slaves there.

“Honor your father and your mother, as Yahweh your God commanded you so that your days may be long. May it go well with you in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you.”

4) Now we switch from God to our fellow men. Coming first is our parents. You will live long if you take care of your parents. There is a slight addition here about things going well in the new land if you honor your parents.

“You shall not murder.”

5) Next up are the three simple comments. First is that you shall not kill. There is no indication of any nuance about various types of murder. Clearly Yahweh had killed the first-born in Egypt and the soldiers in the Red Sea disaster. He also ordered the Levites to kill their fellow idolatrous Israelites. In fact, on the east bank of the Jordan they massacred every man, woman, and child during their victories. In fact, they set up towns in the new land for the refugee murderers.

“Neither shall you commit adultery.”

6) There are no explanations or exceptions. Having sex with a married person who is not your wife or husband is wrong. Obviously the meaning of this has been extended to other sexual activities.

“Neither shall you steal.”

7) Once again there are no nuances about borrowing or anything like that. You cannot take something that does not belong to you.

“Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.”

8) This is not exactly lying in general, but lying against your neighbor, perhaps in some sort of legal setting.

“Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.”

9) There is no confusion here in Deuteronomy like in Exodus, on whether this is a separate commandment. Clearly, it stands alone. You should not desire your neighbor’s wife, so that this is a clear male commandment, as it says nothing about desiring your neighbor’s husband.

“Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

10)              You shall not covet or desire your neighbor’s house is simple enough. Here in Deuteronomy as opposed to Exodus, the wife has been separated out from the other parts of the household items. The slaves and animals are still here as anything that belongs to your neighbor. This is the ‘covet’ concept, not actually stealing, but desiring to steal any possession in the other person’s house. We might call it envy.

“These words Yahweh spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness. He added no more. He wrote them on two stone tables, and gave them to me.”

There was no mention of stone tables in Exodus. Here are my comments about the 10 commandments that are like the section about Exodus, chapter 20. You can reverse these negative commandments with positive blessings. You are blessed to be able to worship the one true God. Therefore you do not need to have false material gods in the place of the real God. As the name of God is a holy name you do not use it in vain. Thus you respect it. The world is yours to use and not misuse so that you need a day of rest. The Christians keep Sunday as a day of rest. They worship instead on Sunday instead of Saturday because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday. You honor your parents because the family is the basis of all society. Life is precious so that obviously you do not kill anyone. You respect the property of others so that you do not steal from anyone. Truth is so important that you do not lie. Your neighbor’s wife has dignity and worth so you do not commit adultery. You respect the goods of others so that you do not desire or covet them. Here we have the basis for the Judeo-Christian culture, respect for God, our parents, our neighbors, their things, and all people. The followers of Christ have accepted these Jewish commandments. Sometimes Christians have given the impression that they or Jesus invented them, which of course is not true.

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