Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
“Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord 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.
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 make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”’
This is the Old Testament selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for Year A, Proper 22, the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost. It will next be read aloud in a church on Sunday, October 8, 2017. It is quite important because this is what Christians call the Ten Commandments.
As a disclaimer: There can be no “pencil-whipped,” Cliff Notes explanation of this reading, as the Ten Commandments stands as the cornerstone of Judaic-Christian beliefs. This article of interpretation is therefore of some length, simply because it addresses each Commandment. Because a standard Episcopalian sermon is between ten and twelve minutes in length, one can expect the totality of time spent on this Old Testament reading selection will be the time the reader puts into reading it. At most, a priest might gloss over one or two laws, to suit the points of a sermon hammered solidly to the Gospel (after all, Christians aren’t Jews, so no need to spend a lot of time on the Law). This posting might be the only time some people will have any of this explained.
With those added words set into the word count, let me begin.
A few things are important to realize before digging deeper into the meaning found in these selected verses (skipping a few between verse 1 and verse 20).
First, the Jews laugh when they hear Christians talk about “the Ten Commandments.” Statues have been removed from courthouse lawns that condense this reading to “10 easy steps to living holy.” The Jews recognize that Moses brought down 613 commandments.
Second, Moses did not come down the mountain and send out messengers to all nations of the world, telling them the news of laws that must be adopted universally. That inaction means ALL of the Laws of Moses (God’s Commandments) are directed at His priests, and only to those who were to be totally freed from the “house of slavery” – life in a world that allures with sin.
This means God was (and is) quite aware that: 1.) There are other gods mankind serves; 2.) Idol worship is normally accepted around the world; 3.) People everywhere play the “god card”; 4.) Some people like to play golf on Friday, some Saturday, and some Sunday, with all calling that their holy day; 5.) Everyone has a mother and father, even if everyone has not personally met them; 6.) Humans love to kill just about anything that moves; 7.) People love sex, in all forms; 8.) People love to have what others have, even if they cannot afford it; 9.) People commonly lie to protect their behinds from punishment; and 10.) People everywhere always think someone else has more than them.
In other words, God knew the world more commonly served Satan (Beelzebub, Baal, Lucifer, etc., etc., by many other names), so the males and females created by God regularly did what displeased YHWH, making Him turn His back to the world in general. But, to save that world, God was laying down the Law only for those who would serve Him in that effort towards Salvation.
Third, these laws of God, sent down by Moses, were given to the Israelites who had followed Moses to Mt. Sinai, but they always apply to those who wish to enlist their services to the LORD. The Jews (of Jesus days and of today) follow these rules religiously (meaning they know when they have broken one or all). Christians (who have delighted in killing Jews in the name of the Jesus – a sin, as listed above) enjoy the fact that they are not Jews, so they can trim down the 613 laws to just ten (while retaining the holy right to amend and adjust the penalties stated by God, through Moses, as they see fit). Jesus, however, made it clear the Law is fixed and just the first step to being a priest for God, when he said, [After obedience to the Law] “sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21) So, if you cannot live up to Ten Commandments, you might as well find another god to openly serve.
With those basic realizations grasped, it is next worth looking at what is actually written, versus the English translations that are posted above and will be read in churches.
For the First Commandment, the Hebrew of verse 3 is: “lō yih·yeh- lə·ḵā ’ĕ·lō·hîm ’ă·ḥê·rîm ‘al- pā·nā·ya.” Literally, this translates to state, “Not (lo) you shall have (yih·yeh-) to you (ḵā) gods (’ĕ·lō·hîm) other (’ă·ḥê·rîm) before me (‘al-) the face of (pā·nā·ya). (Bible Hub Interlinear) When this is translated into English as saying, “You shall have no other gods before me,” an important element is lost – “the face of” (pā·nā·ya).
Certainly, a priest serving YHWH can have no other gods that he, she, or it holds in higher accord than the One God. In fact, I have met people who (supposedly) educate people for Christian ministry, who vehemently deny there are any other gods. They translate “elohim” as “God” (singular capitalized), when it is the Hebrew plural form of “el,” meaning “gods.” Genesis’s first chapter is filled with references to “gods” (“elohim”) acting during the Creation, but all those references have been lost in translation, so we learn: “God” did this and “God” did that.
True. God WAS … before the Creation. Therefore, “In the beginning [ it was God who] gods created.” YHWH made and then commanded little-g gods to do everything; and this proves there are many other gods around (angels and Satan being a couple of examples of non-human spiritual entities … gods).
Sure, the First Law says do not worship any other gods; but isn’t that too simple? Doesn’t every Judaic-Christian believer get credit for that one (well, except the 51% of people in the 2010 U. S. Census who claimed their religion to be “Jew”, but then checked the “no” box asking, “Do you believe in God.)? Still, doesn’t every believer believe only in God?
The answer lies in “panaya” – “the face of.” That answer says, “It is not that simple.
While the English translators (and probably the Hebrew translators, way back to the time of origin?) see this as something like colloquialism, where “before me the face of” was an ancient way of overstating “before, above, over” God, whom all servant-priests must face. However, “panaya” (according to Brown-Driver-Briggs) “literally [means] [faces] of Man,” as found stated in “Genesis 43:31; 2 Samuel 19:5; 1 Kings 19:13; Leviticus 13:14; Daniel 8:18; Daniel 10:9, 15 +; ׳עוֺר”.
This says, Man thinks of him or herself as just as important in the worldly scheme of things as is God. Humans can say they have no other God they believe in “above God,” but then they say that wearing that sinful “face” of him or herself, when they plead “before God.” Man has proven to be too full of itself to bow down “before God’s face,” so God’s face cannot be then reflected back at God, from the bald scalp of Man having self-sacrificed.
In Jesus message terms, the First Law goes beyond memorization of the words and continues on to giving away everything that keeps you bowing down before self, until you then follow in the ways of Jesus, as Jesus with the Christ Mind. We know this because “Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”‘ (Matthew 16:24)
A hint at how this is the correct meaning intended to be honored, I recommend reading the end of Exodus 19, as God told Moses a few things that are relevant here:
“So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.” Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’” The Lord replied, “Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them.” So Moses went down to the people and told them.” (Exodus 19:20b-25, NIV)
Moses and Aaron were holy (“consecrated” means that, as “sacred”). The mountain of God is therefore the Law. “Do not force your way through to see the LORD” means do not say you obey the Law, when you really do not understand it as non-consecrated plebes. “Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves,” which applied to the elders then, the ones in the days of the Pharisees, and the ones who call themselves Rabbis, Pastors, Ministers, and Priests today. Just because you have a following that makes you feel mighty important, do not approach God wearing that face; “or the Lord will break out against you.”
If you have read this far and are thinking, “Wow! So many words on just the First Law! I don’t know if I have the time to read the rest,” then keep in mind how Jesus said, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40, with similar in Luke 10:27; Mark 12:30-31) The following nine Commandments are relative to loving God and loving your neighbor as a God-loving you (consecrated, holy, sacred, and Saintly Apostle).
When you read the Second Commandment, ask yourself, “Have I ever watched American Idol?” We read this and think of the Golden Calf the Israelites made, when we never once think of our worship of idols and heroes, politicians and ministers, as being what God instructed. America’s knees are flat from bowing down to movie stars, singers, activists and protesters, and even sweet Jesus himself.
I imagine it was the Holy Roman Emperor who saw the fish symbol (Pisces = sacrifice) and said, “Scrap that! Make the cross the symbol of Roman power and might. Hang a Jesus on it and put it around the necks of every Roman Catholic … and charge a pretty denarii for it!” This too is a graven image that is in the “form of earth,” as the instrument that killed the body of Jesus, even though it became an earthly symbol of his soul’s release to heaven. In its precious metal presentation, a cross is an idol.
The Third Law does not mean “Do not cuss like a sailor, using God as a word in that process.” This is actually why Jesus had such a problem with the Pharisees and Temple scribes and priests. They were using the name of God as a way to get rich and as a way to condemn those who challenged their racket. They used the Lord’s name in vain every time they said, “I condemn you in the name of the LORD!” Today, a whole lotta ministers go around saying, “I rebuke you in the name of Jesus Christ!” It is great theatrics, but God is not pleased when His name is tossed about like that.
The Forth Commandment seems like all a believer has to do is go to church on Sunday (a Christian Sabbath … not). The Jews who returned from exile, self-flagellating themselves for having strayed so far they lost their valuable property, made it a well-monitored rule that no one could do anything on the Sabbath, except walk to the synagogue and walk home. That is more than the Christian view of getting a day off work on Sunday, with attendance in a church optional. My deceased mother, turned to watching religion on television, rather than go to church. She was not alone.
What is missed in this Law is the part that says, “For six days you shall labor and do all your work.” As a priest of YHWH, what “work” is that which makes one consecrated? Selling Ponzi scheme stock options, or used cars, or life insurance, or practicing being someone one is not, as an actor in the movie industry does? If one is going to be a priest for the One and Only God, the work required is 24/7 practice being His servant. He might want you to shear a sheep or hammer some nails and sweat a lot in the sun; or He might want you to raise children right or tend to the elderly and sick. You just get to stay home on the Seventh Day and eat the manna that God provided the day before and thank God He leads you in your labors.
Intermission: I know this is a long article, but what can be better than spending a whole Sabbath looking at the opinions of others and expanding you own views of the truth. Interpreting Scripture should be fun and uplifting, when one’s mind is seeking to be consecrated. After all, the Law comes from sacred ground, so take off your sandals and let the Holy Spirit guide your thoughts for a few hours. Remember, it is not what I think and write that matters. It is what you think and do that leads to Sainthood. That takes more work than one day a week can satisfy.
When Law number five says, “Honor your father and your mother,” it does not mean draw a picture for the refrigerator for mom, or let mom tell you which tie to pick out for dad, two days a year. It does not even imply that you have parents worthy of any kind of respect. The Hebrew word “kab·bêḏ” means, “to be heavy, weighty, or burdensome.” Thus, you “honor” your parents by taking on the same “burden” they took on when they began cleaning up your messes as a baby. It means to be fruitful and multiply; but the true “honor” is to teach your children to serve the LORD, like you were taught (Charles Manson, et al, excluded).
The Sixth Commandment, “You shall not murder,” is one of those that Americans struggle with, especially those who want to have the government make it illegal for Americans to get their hands on guns and shooting anything that moves (forgetting that humans can kill with their bare hands and anything that fits into them can make killing easier). On top of that, Americans think it is murder to execute someone who actually did murder, so there is less effect that law will keep anyone from murdering. Beyond that, Americans argue “murder versus kill,” and try to justify war, if certain criteria are met … none of which has anything to do with loving your neighbor like yourself.
If you are consecrated, you don’t go looking to kill anyone in any way. You do not love a country more than God, so some politician or general cannot order you to, “Go kill in the name of us.” Just don’t kill, unless God blesses you with an Ark and an order to do so. Then be prepared to die for God.
With the Seventh Commandment we come up with adultery, which is the human urge to have sex without planning to propagate. “Adultery” is a word used to denote (especially a man) having extramarital sex; still, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah used this same word (“naaph”) as figurative when a priest of YHWH cheats on Him (an indication that a priest is the wife, regardless of human gender). Still, as a word in English, the root word is “adult,” which makes the intent be related to those urges that begin at puberty, which usually results in getting married and making babies. However, adults who are led by their groins and sensuality will rub on anything, kind of like human hands love to grasp powerful instruments of death.
As such, “Do not commit adultery” means do not have sex with anyone and everyone prior to marriage. It also means do not have sex with anyone other than your spouse after marriage. It also means do not have sex with yourself. It also means do not have sex with someone of the same sex (where making babies is impossible). It also means do not have sex outside your own species. It also means do not have sex with minors. It means once you become a mature human being you have uncontrollable physical urges. Congratulations! You are normal; but normal and being sacred are two different creatures.
Again, I know this sexual limitation is almost impossible for anyone between the ages of 14 and 84 to comply with; but the point of consecration is why Paul wrote, “”It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (1 Corinthians 7:1). Sex becomes like one of those gods that likes to stand between you and God, when it is Face Time. That is why Jesus said, “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30) The hand causes adults to stumble when it strokes those sensual parts of the body.
For the Eighth Law, “Thou shalt not steal,” the element of adultery implies consent with another adult, and what seems stolen from a spouse is really still there (just missing the heart part). This command is then relative to the material world and innate human lusts for things and gadgets. The people of Israel and Judah who owned land and grew crops were supposed to allow 10% of their crops (the outer fringes) to be for the needy. The needy were going to take what they needed, just to survive; so love your neighbor by allowing them to take freely what they need, rather than make them steal for it. That is a way to love your neighbor as yourself.
This means stealing is relative to excess, or taking more than you need. That can mean taking that which is not yours to take; but that can also mean taking that which should be left for someone else. After all, how many billions of dollars does one need to live comfortably within the Law?
The Ninth Commandment then addresses bearing false witness against your neighbor. This is certainly meaning not to badmouth someone behind his or her back, where sowing the seeds of hate, in hopes of personal benefit, are a long way from being consecrated. I see it more as a warning to stay out of court as much as possible. Stay away from the “sue me sue you” mentality, especially as it has become such an easy way to make a profitable living – easy money. If you are called to witness in a trial, tell the truth – and that means no paid experts who are willing to twist the truth into a knot that benefits the highest bidder.
It is not coincidence that the Pharisees were Lawyers. Their law practices dealt with the Laws of Moses exclusively. Then, as now, lawyers are very closely related to the eighth No-No, stealing. Middlemen, like people who charge interest on loans (Usurers), are like lawyers and advertisers who stir up business by promoting people bearing false witness. (“I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”) These are the people who say, “I’ll get you $100 and all you have to do is nod “yes” when I point to you.” Then, after you follow those instructions, he gives you $50, saying “$40 goes to me and $10 to the court.” Then you feel dirty and used … like an adulterer that has been robbed.
Finally, the Tenth Commandment is about coveting, which is all about jealousy and envy. As far as priests for YHWH go, if your mind is on what someone else has, what someone else looks like, or how important someone else seems to be, you are not serving the LORD. As the song sang, “Don’t worry, be happy,” you can only do that when you wear sacred blinders. God will provide everything you need. Everything beyond that is not yours for a purpose. So, deal with it. It is your test.
In conclusion, The Israelites “said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”’ This point means it is so very easy … normal, common, expected … to let someone else be consecrated. Getting close to God is frightening, simply because of all the worldly things you like to do having a damper be put on them. However, that is just a typical fear of those who are addicted to the worldly. The holy have no fears. The consecrated can enter hallowed grounds.
Those fears are erased when you start to take the test and realize, “this is easier than I thought.” When the Holy Spirit comes everything is possible. The Holy Spirit is a reachable goal, just like Mount Sinai was. However, as is stated in Exodus 19, Moses set “limits around the mountain [to] set it apart as holy.” (Exodus 19:23b). It is the Law that forms those boundaries.