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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Old Testament Tales - Ten Commandments

Ten Commandments
1. How many plagues of Egypt were there?
2. How many good people in Sodom and Gomorrah would have been enough to save them?
3. How many horns did Daniel’s beast have?
4. Have many toes did Daniel’s statue have?
5. How many laws are there in the first five books of the Bible?
6. Why might Catholics and feminists number the ten commandments the same way?
7. How long did Moses stay up the mountain talking to God?
8. What was God telling Moses while the Israelites were making the golden calf?
9. What’s the significance of a golden calf?
10. What was the punishment for worshiping the calf?

Ten appears frequently in the Bible. It’s the highest number we can count to just on our fingers. And it’s a good symbolic number, used to represent something countable, something limited, something belonging to mankind. There are people who said the world was approaching its end when the European Union reached ten members, because of Daniel’s statue (Dan 2:41). Possibly there were people in Smyrna during the writing of the Book of Revelation who counted the days of their tribulation, giving up hope at ten (Rev 2:10). According to Jewish tradition, there are 613 laws, including the ten commandments, given by God in the first five books of the Bible. Some are very clear, explicit rules, like the Decalogue (referred as “ten commandments” in several places: Ex 34:28, Deut 4:13, 10:4). Others are implicit, as in “eat and be satisfied” tied to blessing and prayer (Deut 14:29). And still others are deduced by reasoning (Deut 27:22, incest laws extend to daughters as well as siblings).

While there’s not much debate about which Biblical passages constitute the ten commandments (Ex 20:2-17, Deut 5:6-21), the lists derived from the passages are not always the same. Jewish tradition places “I am the Lord your God” first and separately from a single injunction against other gods and idols. Catholic tradition puts all three together. Others read “I am the Lord” as an introduction and split after having no other gods. As a result, Jewish and most Christian traditions agree on the numbering of the 3rd through 10th commandments, while Catholic and Lutheran traditions separate coveting neighbors’ wives from coveting their goods, rather pleasingly implying that wives are not property, and creating three (divine) God-related commands followed by seven (God’s plan) concerning human relationships.

Moses received many commandments from God, came down the mountain to speak and write, then climbed the mountain again (24:12-18) to learn how to build an ark, how to furnish the temple, and how to dress the priests. Moses stays in the cloud for 40 days (another symbolic number, indicating something limited but too big to count). By the time he came down, the Israelites had given up hope, perhaps unsurprisingly, and were making sacrifices to the local god of the region (Sin, the moon god, worshiped with golden calves—yellow for the moon, calf for its moon-shaped horns). Perhaps they feared Sin had conquered their God. Moses famously breaks the tablets of the law (31:18, 32:19, but probably not the Book of the Covenant, 24:4, where he wrote the earlier commandments). He punishes the people by grinding their golden calf into dust which they drink in water. Levites kill the instigators of rebellion, and God punishes the people with a plague (perhaps heavy metal poisoning).

It’s interesting that all the building and clothing techniques Moses is given are validated by other contemporary documents. The roofed area of the tabernacle measures 45 by 15 feet, and includes a cubical (15x15x15) Most Holy place covered with four roofs (4 symbolizes earth). In Revelation, the Holy City itself is a cube, its walls decorated with just the same twelve stones (12 for God’s choosing) as are prescribed for the priests’ breastplates, implying we are all priests in the end and the whole world becomes holy (Rev 21:15-21, Ex 28:15-29).

1 comment:

Lloyd said...

It is just amazing... Thank you for this study. Blessings, Lloyd