Law and worship

When you were a kid, who had a swear jar? Maybe I was not the only one to have my mouth washed out with soap and water – in Kindy! I guess it worked – at least I never had to go through all of that again. No, I can’t remember what I allegedly said. All a rather strange business!

I guess whoever came up with such a strange practice thought that they were simply being faithful to the law of God + keeping the 10 commandments. So maybe it’s appropriate today to delve a little deeper into the whole 10 commandment business. The first version of the so-called ten commandments is our first reading from Exodus 20. The 2nd is in Deuteronomy 6.

First some misconceptions. No where in the text are they called the 10 commandments. They are always called simply the 10 words. (Decalogue in Greek: Deca = ten; loge = words). The beginning of a series of laws that will by the end of the Torah (instructions) number 613.

And while the text mentions that there are two tablets, this does not mean that the text was too long to fit on one (they were written front and back). Even as we have it now – which is probably much longer than the original with only 2-3 Hebrew words for each commandment / mitzvot – the whole text is only 171 words long, so that would easily fit on tablets you could hold in your hands. No, there are not two volumes with the God commandments on one and the people commandments on the other. They are two identical copies of the same commandments. In a covenant each party received a copy. Here, both are given to Moses to be placed within the Ark of the Covenant and placed before God’s mindful presence.

The ten words

Preamble: I am the LORD your God who saved you from slavery.

  1. Worship only Yahweh.
  2. Represent him well. (Bear his name)
  3. Remember the sabbath day to hallow it.
  4. Honour your parents.
  5. You shall not murder.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not bear false witness against your fellow.
  9. You shall not covet neighbour’s stuff.
  10. You shall not covet neighbour’s partner.

Suggested reading: Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters by Carmen Imes.

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Sunday Lent 3, Year B. Exodus 20:1-17

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