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Ruminations

Rumination #17: Exactly what are the "Ten Words" (or what some people call the "Ten Commandments")?

Everyone seems to know about a portion of Scripture they call the "Ten Commandments." They were written on tablets of stone; and they supposedly represent the baseline of morality for two religions: Judaism and Christianity. But what exactly are they?

First, they are never called the "Ten Commandments" in Scripture. It is quite odd that they ever earned this name. They are listed in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. They are called the "the Ten Words" in Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; and Deuteronomy 10:4. It is from these three passages that they earned their title. In Hebrew, they are called "aseret ha-devarim" [the ten words]. In the Greek Septuagint they are "deca logos" [ten words]. In the Latin Vulgate, they are "verba decem" [ten words]. So how did they earn the English name, "the Ten Commandments"?

The Wycliffe Bible, one of the earliest English Bibles (1395 CE) translated "aseret ha-devarim" as "ten words." The Coverdale Bible (1535 CE) translates the phrase as "ten verses." Virtually every English Bible from that time on has translated the phrase as "Ten Commandments." So what happened between the Wycliffe translation and the Bishop's Bible in 1568? The Protestant Reformation. The Geneva and Bishop's well-established the phrase "the Ten Commandments"; but the Authorized Version [King James Bible] of 1611, theologically sealed the matter. They were to be called "the Ten Commandments" from then on.

So, does it really matter? Certainly, the ten words of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 are imperatives, aren't they? Traditional Judaism lists them as part of the "613 mitzvot" [commandments]. So, what difference does it make if they are incorrectly translated into English?

Beloved, there is a reason they went from being "words" to "commandments" and it isn't out of reverence for mitzvot - it is the opposite. The word "devarim" [words] carries with it the promise of liberty and life - after all, we are to live by "every word that proceeds from the mouth of HaShem." (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4) To some, the word "commandments" bears the appropriate negative connotation. There is a theological reason "words" became "commandments."

To be fair, some of the men of the Protestant Reformation considered these words as valid and operable in the lives of believers. Sadly, those same men were those that promoted a heretical theology called "Supercessionism" or "Replacement Theology." The real force behind the denigrating of the Ten Words is to be found in Dispensationalism. It is there that the Ten Words became a relic of a past "dispensation" - the "dispensation of law" which in the dispensationalist's mind is the antithesis to the "dispensation of grace." 

It was not the name "Ten Commandments" that reduced these words of life to "the Law carved on stone" in Christianity - it was the theology, whether Supercessionist as with Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Presbyterianism; or Dispensationalism as with Baptist, Pentecostalism, or Evangelicalism (and sadly, some forms of Messianic Judaism). The theology aims to do the same thing in this regard: relegate the Ten Words to cold hard tablets of stone.

That is not what they are. They were delivered by the mouth of the Almighty King of the universe to the ears of an entire nation at once. They came with sounds and sights that have never been experienced since. They were spoken audibly by the mouth of the Master of all worlds. We could see those words, as if sparks. HaShem Himself carved them onto tablets (twice). Our tradition tells us that those tablets were miraculously carved in a way to be visible on both sides, with the words suspended as if on air.

Beloved, they are words of life. They are Ten Words. They are the summary of HaShem's self-revelation. Think about that for a moment. Everything that He said, is found within these Ten Words. And the first of them is...

I am the HaShem your G-d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Exodus 20:2

This is His formal introduction to His bride. Never forget that.

Parashat Yitro - 'Jethro'' (Exodus 18:1-20:23)

This week's Scripture portion is named for Moses' father-in-law. It seems somewhat odd that the portion which contains the giving of the Torah at Sinai would be named for a non-Israelite. The name comes from the first verse of the parasha.

Vayishma Yitro khohen Midyan khoten Moshe et kol-asher asa Elokim l'Moshe uleYisrael amo ki-hotsi HaShem et-Yisrael Mimitzrayim.

Now Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard of all that G-d had done for Moses, and for Israel His people, how that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.

To understand the significance of Jethro the Midianite priest showing up at Sinai just before the giving of the Torah, one must remember what happens at the end of last week's parasha. In last week's portion (B'Shalach: Exodus 13:17-17:16), we saw quite a lot of significant action. In fact, with the crossing of the Reed Sea, and the Song of Moses, we often overlook one of the most significant prophetic markers for Israel in the Torah - the attack of the Amalekites.

In Exodus 17:8-16 we read that Amalek attacked Israel. This is the account of how Aaron and Hur held up the arms of Moses as Israel fought and prevailed against the marauding Amalekites. Beloved, there is a contrast given to us in the Torah regarding Amalek and Jethro. Here is the way the end of last week's portion reads when placed next to the first verse of this week's portion:

Then HaShem said to Moses, "Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven." And Moses built an altar and called its name, HaShem-Is-My-Banner; for he said, "Because HaShem has sworn: HaShem will have war with Amalek from generation to generation."

And Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard of all that G-d had done for Moses and for Israel His people - that HaShem had brought Israel out of Egypt.
Exodus 17:14-18:1

Who is this Amalek, and where does Jethro come in? Jethro is also called Ruel (Num 10:29). Ruel means "Friend of G-d." Jethro, the "Friend of G-d" is contrasted for us in the Torah against Amalek, G-d's enemy. To get a better understanding of what Jethro is doing showing up in this week's parsha - which just so happens to be positioned along with the giving of Torah at Sinai, we need to look at Amalek.

Amalek, was the son of Esau. All throughout Israel's history, Amalek was and is the enemy of G-d's people. Amalek, and Esau represent the opposite of the Ruel ["Friend of G-d"] by opposing G-d's chosen people. Here is a partial list of the physical descendants of Amalek and how they are the opposite to the descendants of Jacob:

Because of the attack on Israel in Exodus 17, G-d puts them under national condemnation. As you can see, the merciful G-d deals with the nation of Amalek in devastating terms - they are to be blotted out. King Saul's disobedience to finish this resulted in the near annihilation of Israel in Persia when the wicked Haman sought to kill all Jews. Clearly in history, Hitler was not alone in his hatred of the Jews.

It is not surprising then that Amalek is typographical for that which wages war against G-d's chosen people. It is important to point out, that even though the principle of Amalek can be seen as a metaphor, it does not eliminate the physical contest between Amalek and the physical descendants of Jacob. Notice in Numbers 24:20, in the verse that immediately follows the declaration of the Kingship of Messiah coming from Jacob, it says,

Then he looked on Amalek, and he took up his oracle and said: "Amalek was first among the nations, but shall be last until he perishes."
Numbers 24:20

There is a spirit of Amalek present in the world. It is a spirit that opposes G-d by opposing His chosen people. That spirit has been seen throughout the ages, in nations and in individuals who rise up against the Almighty and who chafe at His instructions. People like Haman (a physical descendant of Amalek), Hitler, and Arafat (at various times calling himself an Edomite, and a physical descendant of Amalek) are easy to spot.

What is not so easy is spotting Amalek in ourselves and especially in our theologies. As we have discussed before, Amalek has infected our "Christian" theology as well. Beginning with men like Marcion and Justin Martyr in the Second Century CE, and extending to such luminaries as Augustine and Luther, there is a sad history between traditional "Christianity" and the Jewish people. How is Amalek seen in the theology of those men? By doing what the father of Amalek, Esau, in effect said of his brother Jacob: "That birthright that I legally sold to you... means nothing. I do not need the blessing that comes from my father Isaac - and I deny that you even received it."

Beloved, Amalek is alive today. It is alive in his physical descendants who daily attack and kill the descendants of Jacob. It is alive today even in "Christian" circles where they deny the birthright which G-d promised to Jacob and his physical descendants. There are many conservative Christian theologians who do not recognize that Israel remains the chosen people of the Almighty G-d. If one tracks the theological positions of such men it becomes quite obvious that despite their theological conservatism, they are treading on very dangerous ground. It is the ground of Amalek and Esau. In their admirable zeal for the Gospel of Messiah, they have excised whole portions of Scripture by allegorizing them. They have ignored and misinterpreted passages like Romans 1:16 which says,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Messiah, for it is the power of G-d to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
Romans 1:16

In their twisted minds, they see this as speaking chronologically and not with the understanding that G-d always intended, and still intends, His people Israel to be the "Light to the Nations" - and that apart from G-d's dealings with Israel there is no salvation. They do not fully realize that they have been grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12. 19) and they themselves are not the root (Rom 11:18).

Of them, G-d says in Jeremiah 33:23-26,

Moreover the word of HaShem came to Jeremiah, saying, "Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, 'The two families which HaShem has chosen, He has also cast them off'? Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them. "Thus says HaShem: 'If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then I will cast away the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his descendants to be rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will cause their captives to return, and will have mercy on them.
Jeremiah 33:23-26

You see, the theology of "Replacement Theology," which is prominent in some Christian circles, is struck with a primary flaw: not knowing the difference between how G-d deals with nations of people versus how G-d deals with individuals. It is also most telling that such denominations have a strong and good view of the historic blessing that America has enjoyed because of the piety of its founders. Apparently, they believe (correctly) that G-d blesses America today because its founders were reverently obedient to G-d - and yet, that same blessing to the ethnic offspring they do not extend to the physical descendants of Jacob, as they put it, apart from Christ. In other words, in the words of the ignoble Inquisition, "convert or die!" Their literal anti-Semitism is obvious.

Just like the spirit of Amalek says to the physical descendants of Jacob, "Your birthright means nothing - because we have taken it back"- so the spirit of Amalek infects our modern theologies when it says, "There is no blessing for Jews, unless they become Christians." No wonder so many Jews today continue to reject Yeshua as the true Messiah, considering that He has such poor emissaries who claim to be spreading His Gospel (G-d forbid). Shame on those that claim the Gospel as theirs and yet disregards the covenant faithfulness of G-d to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

So where does Jethro fit into this discussion? Beloved, he is the opposite of Amalek. Jethro comes from Midian. Midian, like Amalek was a descendant of Abraham - but not born to the "son of promise" - not the inheritor of the covenant promises given to Israel. But what was Jethro's response to this? Was it like Amalek, who denied the existence of G-d's faithful covenant-keeping with the physical descendants of Jacob? No. Jethro responds quite differently.

And Moses told his father-in-law all that HaShem had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, all the hardship that had come upon them on the way, and how HaShem had delivered them. Then Jethro rejoiced for all the good which HaShem had done for Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, "Blessed be HaShem, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that HaShem is greater than all the G-ds; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them."
Exodus 18:8-11

You see, the promise given to Abram, where G-d would bless the nations through him was a promise that Jethro became a part of as an individual (Gen 12:3). He is much like many of us, who have not been born into the genealogical line of Jacob - but in Messiah are grafted into the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:19). Jethro believed in the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when he saw the covenant faithfulness of G-d when he delivered the physical descendants of Jacob from Egypt - even though they did not merit such redemption, and were themselves idolatrous. Jethro, instead of pronouncing curses upon the descendants of Jacob, as modern "Replacement Theology" does - blesses G-d because of what He has done for them - and recognizes that this type of redemption is what will reveal to all peoples that He is the Master of the Universe.

It is interesting to note that the first record of how the Torah (indeed all of Scripture) is given to us is found in Exodus 17:14, which says,

Then HaShem said to Moses, "Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven."
Exodus 17:14

The first reason given for Scripture being recorded is found in this verse - to blot out the remembrance of Amalek. I suppose G-d thinks it is important to deal with Amalek and the spirit of Amalek quite forcefully.

Juxtaposed against that reason for the recording of the Torah - is the instruction given in this week's parasha - where the instruction for writing down the Torah itself lies. There is where we find Jethro, Ruel, the "Friend of G-d," siding with G-d's people as they prepare to receive the Torah.

Which side will you take? Will you side with the descendants of Jacob, to whom you have been grafted in - or will you deny the very root that supports you and take the side of G-d's enemy Amalek? Will you deny the birthright legally purchased and promised to Jacob - or will you walk with all Israel to the foot of Sinai and embrace the Words of Life. It is sad that even among those who name the Name of Messiah that such a choice should even be given - but the choice is indeed ours.

Choose wisely.

Haftarat Yitro  - 'Jethro' (Isaiah 6:1-13)

This week's Torah portion is one of the most profound passages in all of Scripture. It is named for the Gentile father-in-law of Moses; and yet it contains within it the only time in all Scripture that any nation (Israel in its entirety) hears the Voice of the Almighty. It is an event that is both revered and disparaged by traditional Christianity, depending on the point being made. For many, the events of Sinai represent the antithesis to grace. To some they represent some "salvation by works" perspective. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. In so viewing the events at Sinai, they unknowingly disassemble the very concept of G-d dwelling among His people; the truth that is expressed in Messiah Himself. Those who denigrate Torah of HaShem, and the event of the Holy One, blessed is He, speaking audibly to the Tribes of Israel; do not perceive their error, spoken of quite plainly in the Apostolic Scriptures:

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: "And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow." And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.") But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living G-d, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and congregation of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to G-d the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Yeshua the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, "Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven." Now this, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve G-d acceptably with reverence and G-dly fear. For our G-d is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:18-29

Some, in their error do not see that the One who descended and touched Mount Sinai was the same One Who today still deserves reverence and godly fear. He was, and He is, a consuming fire. Beloved, always remember this: the G-d of grace, gave His Torah to His people. Like a loving father that speaks helping words of instruction to a young son, so too our Loving Father has spoken to us. For those who think that they can cast away His holy Torah, the words that He spoke, the writer of Hebrews warns you to beware. Do not refuse Him Who speaks. The Torah is not merely the "Torah of Moses" - it is the Torah of HaShem! The G-d of grace is a consuming fire.

The haftarah reading from the Prophets for this Torah portion is found in Isaiah 6. It is connected to the Torah portion because, just like at Sinai, the Voice of HaShem is heard. This time it is heard by the prophet Isaiah; as he sees HaShem. One can only wonder at the opinion of some who understand this revelation of G-d to be inferior to the revelation of G-d found in the "New Testament" as some call it. Is it, or is it not, the same G-d? He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Amen. His word is living and enduring forever.

So it is with great confusion that I read the writings of supposed great theologians, who describe the revelation of G-d in the days of the "old covenant" as a "dark dispensation." What? What Bible are they commenting on? Do they truly understand the immutability of the Almighty? Do they truly understand the grace given at Sinai? Believing that grace is found in the work of Messiah, and yet doubting that same grace is found at work in all of HaShem's revelation is at best dubious - and more likely blasphemous.

Isaiah's revelation begins with an implied warning:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw HaShem sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the Temple.
Isaiah 6:1

Uzziah had been an unusually good king. He had obeyed G-d and G-d had blessed his kingdom. His success went to his head and he decided to enter the Temple and offer incense to G-d. Of course, the Torah forbids this to all except the descendants of Aaron. When he insisted, G-d struck Uzziah with leprosy. He spent the rest of his life in a house in a cemetery. The ritual uncleanness of leprosy makes one like a "walking dead." He was forbidden to enter the Temple - and even the holy city of Jerusalem. So the year that Uzziah died is the year that HaShem revealed Himself to Isaiah.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw HaShem sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the Temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is HaShem of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!" And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, HaShem of hosts." Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged."
Isaiah 6:1-7

Wow. Imagine for a moment the scene. First of all, let's get the venue correct. Twice in the passage, words used for the Temple in Jerusalem are used. This scene is played out in the Heykhal ["Temple"], and in the Bayit ["House"]. This is not, as "Replacement Theologians" imply, a metaphor for "the church." It is the throne room of the Almighty. It is the place built to replicate Sinai, that place where the feet of HaShem touched the earth, and His Voice was heard by an entire nation. The Temple in Jerusalem was the Place where His Name was placed. One day, by G-d's strength, it will be built again.

We are meant to notice the difference between the Prophet Isaiah and King Uzziah:

One has to wonder at the biases of some against the Torah and their sense of superiority to the chosen people of HaShem, Israel. Uzziah thought that the chosen Kohenim [Priests] were not G-d's chosen. He sought to replace them with His own service, which he reasoned was sincere. No doubt He reasoned that G-d was no longer consuming fire, as He had appeared at Sinai. He was quite wrong. Isaiah, humbly acknowledged the awesomeness of G-d. He saw the awesomeness of the Holy G-d, and trembled. Isaiah saw grace, and experienced grace. Uzziah was prideful, and suffered separation because of it.

Beloved, as you read this week's Torah portion, and then the haftarah passage from Isaiah 6, remember this: Our G-d is a consuming fire. He lovingly gives grace to the humble. Receive His eternal word in humility, and live obediently. This all-powerful One is a consuming fire... but He also loves you. This is why He has so lovingly given us His Torah. He wants us to know Him. He wants us to know Messiah. It is all about knowing, and experiencing Him.

Prayer Focus for Yitro  -  'Holiness of G-d's Name' [Kedoshat HaShem]

The third blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei (Amidah) prayer draws from the Isaiah haftarah. It speaks of the event at Sinai in our Torah portion. It is about the holiness of HaShem.

You are holy, and Your Name is holy, and holy ones praise You every day, forever. Blessed are You, HaShem, the holy G-d.
-- ArtScroll translation

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