This week’s Torah Portion Yitro (Exodus 18:1–20:23): includes the miracle of the Ten Words given by the Creator of the Universe and written on two tablets of stone, five on one and five on the other. The first five relate to our relationship with Yehovah and the second five speak to our relationship with each other.
The Giving of the Torah (The Ten Commandments) was a revelation given to many thousands of people at the same time. They knew that Moses was a Prophet of God. There was no question – they had experienced the reality of God and the reality of the two Tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments or Ten Words.
There was no question, no argument, no logic, or spiritual vision that could shake the nation of Israel’s experience and conviction that God had visited them, and that the Torah of Moses was the very words of God, of Yehovah.
Some argue that as many as 600,000 or more experienced this event. While many Biblical scholars today may question the actual numbers present, there is little doubt that they were a great many and most likely at least many ten’s of thousands. And there is also no doubt that the transformational power of that great cloud of witnesses has travelled down to us through a great many generations.
See my article here for more on what the impact of this has been – https://luke443.blogspot.com/2016/05/600000-traditions-that-establish-truth.html
Many of the faithful within Judaism and Christianity would agree that these commandments are the Moral Code of the Universe. And if so, they are more than important and most vital to know and study. So in this short article I wish to look at a few aspects of the first four of the Ten Words.
The 1st Word:
I am the YEHOVAH 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 Ex 20: 2-3 (ESV)
This was a novel idea around 1300 BCE. The idea of a relationship with God that was not casual but covenantal. “I am the Lord your God”. That is, He is a personal God, a God who wants a relationship with us, His creation.
So a vital principle here is that in our relationship with God, the observation of a commandment brings us closer to God and every time we violate a commandment we become further estranged from God.
The 2nd Word:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Ex 20:4-6 (ESV)
In Akiva Judaism this is one of the three sins that one must be willing to die for rather than violate – murder and sexual prohibitions against incest and adultery are the other two. When you have studied this Word sufficiently to recognize why it is seen as so important, then you are really on the way to establishing a deep and personal relationship with Yehovah that can be sustained.
Whenever anything, anything at all besides God and acting out of godliness, that is displaying kindness, charity, and compassion, etc., (see Micah 6:8 and Matthew 23:23b) becomes the actual endpoint of your attentions and activities, then that is idolatry, and your actions are not longer in accordance with the 2nd Word.
Consider Psalms 128:1-2: Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! 2 You shall eat the fruit of the labour of your hands; you shall be blessed (happy), and it shall be well with you. and Ps 97:11 Light is sown for the righteous, And gladness (happiness) for the upright in heart.
Yehovah is the ultimate source of meaning and therefore happiness – seek Yehovah and find happiness. ‘Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart‘ – Ps 37:4
If instead, you fall for the worship of idols, you in turn, turn your back on the 2nd Word and move away from God.
Any activity taken to extreme, in spite of obligations to family and society, is a behavior that serves the self and is a form of idolatry.
What is the consequence of idolatry: “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 16 They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; 17 they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. 18 Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them!”– Psalms 135:15-18 (ESV)
That is, the more we lead idolatrous lives the more we become blind and deaf and dead to God!
The scary thing here is that as we turn our eyes more and more on our idols, Yehovah hides Himself more and more, even to the point that we are unaware that He is hiding!
Please see my article ‘Moses and the King Who Hides’- https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/09/23/moses-and-the-king-who-hides/
The 3rd Word:
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Ex 20:7 (ESV)
The importance of a ‘good name’ or reputation is emphasised in the fact that this command is also repeated with regard to people in the 9th commandment, that is, we are not to bear false witness against others.
God is about relationships – if you give a bad name to Him you may diminish or demolish people’s belief, respect and awe. A name defines something.
God’s name in Ex 3:14-15, ‘I Will Be What I Will Be’ (see https://globaltruthinternational.com/2021/01/08/i-will-be-what-i-will-be-yehovah-the-god-of-the-future/ ) also speaks to his permanency, his reliability.
When we curse God, we are in a sense blaming Him for problems and not taking our responsibility to stand between the evil and innocent. Since it is our duty to emulate God: “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy (Lev 19:2); a clear way to sanctify God’s name is to behave in holy ways. When we fail to do so we are profaning His name, especially if we are trying to declare our faith as believers.
Similarly, trying to argue that God has condoned your sinful acts is a form of profaning His Name.
As we are all tasked with the being a light in a world of darkness, and reaching others with the greatest message of hope, we must take great care to act and speak worthy: But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.‘ Deut 18:20 (ESV)
God swears on his Name:
… establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, Gen 9:11-14 (ESV) and He said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” Gen 22:16-18 (ESV)
Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant 4 that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, 5 that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.” Jeremiah 11:3-5 (ESV)
God’s name imparts a seriousness above and beyond anything else we might attempt to invoke.
Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. Lev 24:16 (ESV)
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Mark 3:28-30 (ESV)
Invoking God’s Name while involved in evil (e.g. The Crusades) and making vows in God’s Name which you don’t intend to keep are examples of defying the Third Commandment.
The 3rd commandment speaks to the sacred nature of our relationship with God and our responsibilities to each other in His name.
The 4th Word:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Ex 20:8-11 (ESV)
A double portion of the manna was collected on the 6th day to last through the Sabbath. When this was tried on other days the manna rotted. God demonstrated in this miracle alone how important it was Him that His people observed a day of ceasing or abstaining from their normal labours of providing for themselves and their families.
The Sabbath day, a day spent with community and family in study, prayer, discussion, and peace, reminds is how we should regulate and perfect our spiritual, intellectual, physical, domestic and social behaviours.
Observing the Sabbath reminds and instructs us to sanctify our lives. The way God has sanctified the Sabbath day. This commandment does not limit our freedom, it gives us distinct guidance toward holiness and therefore meaningfulness for our lives.
The first six days God made good, the seventh He made holy.
We struggle to stop working for Shabbat but because it is commanded by God, their should be no guilt about having some downtime.
The Sabbath reminds us of our potential for doing good. We are the bridge between the worldly and the divine – between the rest of creation (on the first 5 days) and the sanctified 7th day.
The Sabbath is spirit in the form of time. (Herschel)
The appreciation of a non-productive day is predicated on a week of labour. “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work.” Ex 20:9 (ESV)
During the week we emulate the creative side of God.. The Sabbath is then the culmination of a productive week on which the non-productivity can be appreciated only when preceded by creativity.
Community prayers and fellowship are an important part of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath was given to the Israelites as a reminder of God’s freeing them from slavery – as a reminder then of both God and the sanctity of human freedom. It should serve the same purpose for Gentile followers of Yeshua who have also been freed from the slavery of sin.
On the Sabbath we search for the essence of God. Shabbat is the antidote to the tendency toward self-idolatry.
Every time we live a day dedicated to holiness we have the opportunity to bring some residual effect into our daily lives. The Sabbath is not about time off, it is about sacred time.
The proper recognition of this most holy day is worthy of serious reflection. Please see the chapter on the Sabbath in my book ‘Doctrinal Pitfalls of Hellenism’, https://www.amazon.com/Doctrinal-Pitfalls-Hellenism-Studies-Greek-ebook/dp/B00DO17CK8/ as well as this article, ‘The 4-Step Approach to The Sabbath’ available here: http://circumcisedheart.info/The4StepApproachToTheSabbath.pdf
The 5th Word
Honour your parents!
“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” – Exodus 20:12 (ESV)
The only one of the Ten Words that contains a promise, a promise of a longer and better life, and also a promise to Israel that they would possess the Land of Israel for a much longer time-frame.
There is a great deal that could be written about this Word, both in what it says and what it doesn’t. We are called to honour our parents, to show deference; to remember the sacrifice they made in raising us up; not to shame them or belittle them, not to neglect them or their memory. And in doing so we can expect the same honour to be shown to us by our children, and even in this way alone to prolong our life and length or broaden its impact.
But we are not commanded to love our parents, as love, though principally a commitment, is also much more and sometimes perhaps too much to expect if our parents have not lived up to all that Yehovah created them to be.
It is very hard to love parents who have abused you; or have never even been half-decent at the parenting role. But regardless, Yehovah does ask us to honour them. Our parents represented the Almighty to us as we grew up – they were His Representatives in our young lives; they were like gods to us. So, when we reach adulthood and honour our parents, we are in turn honouring the Almighty.
Sadly, too many are not even aware of this very special instruction from our Creator and instead treat their parents with a serious lack of honour and respect.
The 5th Word is the last Word on the first tablet. The 6th Word and first on the second tablet is ‘do not murder’. There is an implicit bond between these two Words, these two instructions from our Creator. Can you sense what it is?
I will address this in my blog post on the second tablet.
For a serious review of all of the 10 Words, I also recommend “The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God’s Laws in Everyday Life” by Dr Laura Schlessingger and Rabbi Stewart Vogel