The 14 Commandments

After Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt they went to Mount Sinai where Moses receives from YHWH the Fourteen Commandments.  I know what you’re thinking: “Does he know how to count?”  Re-read Exodus 20:2-17 carefully and see if you don’t come up with 14 also.

Traditionally, the 14 commands are divided into 4 commandments that focus on “loving” God (Exo. 20:2-11) and 6 commandments that focus on “loving” humans (Exo. 20:12-17) for a total of 10.  In the first section focusing on God, the English phrase “You shall…” is repeated 6 times (all imperfects in Hebrew).  The command “Remember the Sabbath day” is unique (an infinitive absolute in Hebrew).  So there are 7 commands in Exo. 20:2-11 in a six and one pattern. (The two other verbs in 20:9, “you shall labor and do all your work” appear to be descriptive, not prescriptive, and therefore aren’t interpreted as commands.)

In the second section focusing on other humans, the English phrase “You shall” is repeated 6 times (all imperfects in Hebrew).  The command to “Honor your father and your mother” is unique (an imperative in Hebrew).  So there are 7 commands in Exo. 20:12-17 also in a six and one pattern.

(Don’t read this paragraph unless you’re into details.  How did the Fourteen Commandments become the Ten Commandments?  Good question.  Several texts from the Pentateuch call them literally “the ten words” (Exo. 34:28; Deut. 4:13; 10:4), so that’s where the number 10 comes from.  But we still need to decide how to make the 14 into 10 and this is where Christians disagree.  People agree that the 3 commands in verses 8-11 are all part of the command to “Remember the Sabbath.”  The disagreement centers on the beginning and the end.  Most Protestants think the 2nd commandment entails verses 4-6, while the Catholics and the Lutherans think the 1st commandment includes verses 3-6.  The Catholics and Lutherans then divide the two commands about coveting into #9 and #10.  For more details see, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_commandments.)

I call them The Fourteen Commandments, not only to be provocative, but also to highlight the textual emphasis on Sabbath.  A pattern of 6 and 1 in the God-commandments, then a pattern of 6 and 1 in the Human-commandments.  Even in the covenantal laws given to his people, God reminds them to rest, remember the Sabbath and enjoy his creation.

Which is better, DeMille’s The Ten Commandments or DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt


Gideon 2: Was God nicer in Exodus than in Judges?

During the time of Gideon, YHWH gave the Israelites into the hands of the Midianites who brutally oppressed them.  As we can see from this life-like portrayal on the left (image from The Brick Testament), the Israelites cried out to YHWH for help.

So, YHWH sent them a prophet (Judg. 6:7-10; if you’re interested most of this section is missing from an important Dead Sea Scrolls manuscript, 4QJudgA, hmm…).  While the message to Israel from YHWH through this anonymous prophet appear to be an answer to prayer, there isn’t much comfort.  YHWH reviews  history (“I led you up from Egypt…I gave you their land”), he identifies himself (“I am YHWH your God”) and he rebukes them (“But you have not listened to my voice”).

However, there is no comfort.  No promise to help them.  No “I will be with you.”  The Israelites are being impoverished by Midian.  They have no food, no crops, no animals, nothing, nada.  The Midianites are taking everything.

We know that eventually, God is going to call Gideon to deliver them, but why doesn’t God give them a glimmer of hope at this point in time?   Are they supposed to somehow find hope in this prophetic message?  Does God work like this today, rebuke us when were down?

When the Israelites cried out for help from their Egyptian oppressors in Exodus, the text says God heard their groans, remembered his covenant, looked upon them and took notice of them (Exo. 2:24-25).  God sure seems a lot nicer back in Exodus.

Do you think God was more compassionate toward the Israelites in Egypt, than he was in Canaan?  If so, why?