Reading through the Bible: day 36

Gustave Doré, The giving of the law upon Mount Sinai

Exodus 20 – 22

The Ten Suggestions

Many of these commandments seem to be seen as suggestions to Christians as (like most of the Bible rules) they are interpreted to suit the interpreter.

“No other gods.” God’s pretty clear that He is the only God, thus here he’s referring to perceived gods, or (in modern theology) anything that takes the number one place in your life, like wealth; power etc.

“Carved images.” Making idols is condemned here, but images of angels are made. The difference is in the “bow down to” bit. If you make an image and worship it, there is a problem (how important to you is that cross around your neck?) This seems to coincide with the first commandment, and in Jewish and Catholic theology these are one commandment. But while a god represents something important to you and what you put first, the idol is something you use to represent it. So if wealth is your God (continuing an earlier example) then money; cattle; jewellery et cetera are things you use to represent your wealth, and thus they are the idols. In that interpretation it’s reasonable to accept that they are 2 commandments. I’ll cover the issue of ancestral sin later, but I don’t think you get punished for your parents’ actions.

“Yahweh’s name in vain.” This can mean many things. Literally, you shouldn’t use the name of God in a glib; unrespectful or matter of fact manner, it should be used with thought and reverence. A non-believing friend of mine gave me a different interpretation which I quite liked. She felt that by claiming to be Christian and not behaving in a Christ like manner was being disrespectful to Him, and using His name inappropriately, thus it would be a violation of this commandment.

“Keep the Sabbath Holy.” I’m an Adventist, so I see this commandment as binding, and binding too a particular day (due to the definite article (the)). I’m again not going to go into this debate extensively, but if you think you can refute what Adventists believe regarding the importance of the day, I’ll happily discuss it in the comments thread. One thing I will say though is that since it’s clear that this is a memorial of creation, not a “shadow of things to come,” thus it is not a prophetic marker like other festivals. This being the case, I feel that Collosians 16 can’t be referring to the weekly Sabbath as verse 17 makes it clear that Paul is referring to prophetic markers.

The rest are fairly straight forward, but covetousness is really underrated or misunderstood. The New Testament commandment to love your neighbour as yourself says quite a bit about your own self worth and how it transfers to how you treat others. People who covet aren’t satisfied with what they have (or who they are) and can cause them to be bitter (particularly to the ones who have) thus this commandment is actually really important to Christian theology.

Murder also deserves a comment. Murder is by definition a premeditated, unlawful killing, if it isn’t unlawful, we don’t call it murder, we call it self defence or war. War, of course, is simply a group of people killing another group of people in self defence before that other group kills them in self defence. So murder is absolutely wrong, there can be no moral relativism here, but only because the statement “murder is wrong” is true a priory. So the issue is, how do we define murder? In the event of uncertainty I feel we should hoof killing, be it war self defence or any other kind. I’ll focus more on self defence later though.

So what about rape? It didn’t make it. I feel that rape is mostly covered by adultery, since this is more common. The problem is I believe that one has the potential to rape a spouse, which is wrong, but not adulterous. In this case (and most rape cases), I think that the coveting ban actually covers rape, since it’s about taking what isn’t yours to take because you are unsatisfied with the status quo.

Slavery

Slavery is a problem, it’s probably wrong, but it seems to be allowed (like polygamy). You mustn’t beat a slave to death, which implies beating is okay. Later laws are given as to releasing slaves due to injuries caused by beating. God may have not explicitly banned beating, but the controls on it seem to make it difficult to do without loosing the slave. Perhaps God was finding a way to show it was wrong without actually taking a custom of the time away. He could simply have had this approach to keep the focus on other issues that needed more urgent attention.

Slavery in the Old Testament times (while it included beatings and the like) wasn’t the same thing we think of. Slave masters were expected to keep their slaves and their families healthy, fed and sheltered. If we compare this to some modern labour laws and minimum wages, no responsibility of the employer to the family, it could be said that while beatings are never a good thing, you’re better off being an Old Testament slave than a modern bread winner on minimum wage. If the Biblical principles of care for slaves (with regard to health and family) are transposed to Christian employers today, then it puts a huge amount of responsibility on the employer that isn’t found in many modern legal systems. I’m not saying slavery is good, but it was a system that was in use at the time and kept people who would otherwise starve, fed and sheltered. Incidentally slavery seems to be frowned upon in Exodus 21:16, but this seems to be for a specific brand of slave trading.

Sacrificing children, again

In Exodus 22:29, the Israelites are again asked to give their firstborn sons to God. It never specifies as a sacrifice, and we do see later how this actually went down and how it doesn’t speak to human sacrifice at all.

What are your thoughts?


Please give the reading through the Bible page a look if you haven’t already, there are some background posts and the index to this reading plan. Share it with others who you think can benefit from Reading the Bible.

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