A StubbornThings Symposium 8/21/15
The Grand Finale • For the last year and a half we have been discussing, one at a time, the commandments Moses brought down from Mount Sinai just after the Jews escaped from Egypt, the ones God Himself scribed on two tablets of stone. We’ve started from the last commandment and have finally arrived at the first, the most important, the ta-da! of the whole project.
Why did we do this backwards? Because this upside down order enabled a fresh, stand-alone look at each single idea. Because this system let us begin to see the interrelationships between the various mandates, and because it highlights the most important commandment of all, the one, without which, none of the others can stand.
This symposium has also allowed us to examine these ten laws in the light of 21stcentury America, even though Moses brought them down the mountain almost 3,500 years ago. It has given us opportunity to compare these absolutes with today’s moral relativity. We have been able see them in a different light.
These are not rules for Christians to follow in order to get into heaven. These are not even the rules the Jews followed to ensure a blessed eternity. Nothing in those laws addresses anything ethereal or eternal. These are the rules given to Israel, a fledgling nation, in order to survive as a nation.
When the majority of the Hebrews followed these Laws, the nation prospered. When the people and the leadership followed other gods, created graven images to worship, stopped honoring the Sabbath, ceased obeying parents, began killing each other, having adulterous sex, stealing, lying, and coveting, then the nation foundered, eventually split, and in 597 B.C. was wiped out.
But the Jews came back, rebuilt and again prospered under the Mosaic Law. This next time they found themselves in the opposite pickle; they had embellished and twisted the Law until they failed to recognize their Messiah when he arrived. For that they were again sent packing by the Romans in 70 A.D.
You see, the heart of the Ten Commandments is its ability to focus on the elements of a successful society – how do the people of a prosperous, free society behave? It is the aggregate of those behaviors that make or break a nation, and the foundation on which those pivotal standards rests is the first — “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Or as it is presented in Leviticus 19 — “‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Let us be holy and save this nation.
— Deana Chadwell
Number 1: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Well, we have finally reached the end. But as it turns out, we have not reached the same end; I have been using Rabbi Daniel Lappin’s commentaries of the comparison of the two tables with a horizontal perspective. And there’s the rub…in his version of the Ten Commandments — or, as he puts it, Ten Statements — this all works out very well. But for my post here I will be using a different first statement then what Brad has asked for. Rabbi Lappin uses this first one, “You shall have no other gods before Me” as part of the second statement.
So here we go with my, most likely solo, topic.
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
The first part of this compares nicely: I Am the Lord your God, with Thou shall not murder. The very first thing we need to acknowledge, if we are to live in a society that has morals and can act civilly towards our fellow man, is that God exists and that the great I Am is the Lord your God. If we cannot do that, then who gets to decide that murder is wrong? Where does the idea that murder is wrong come from without God telling us it is wrong? The Laws of Nature cannot do that. Lots of animals kill, but they do not murder. But the Laws of Nature’s God do tell us that. Without God we are just clever animals.
So let us look at the statement in its entirety. God is declaring his place in the scheme of things; He is the one and only God, pointing back to Egypt and how He used their false gods and idols to defeat pharaoh. But He is also pointing out that they were slaves, and it is He that set them free from their bondage. He was gracious enough to set us free again 2000 years ago, once and for all, because we just can’t seem to get it right, those damn false gods and idols get us every time, even today.
Since God is outside of time, when He has us write things down, it is for us, at all times. If these principles are truly timeless, He was not just speaking to the Jews 3500 years ago, He was also teaching us as well. We are held in a type of bondage to this day. We are slaves to things, and it is a very long list of things. We are so self-centered that we forget to be thankful for what God has given us, to look to him, not just in times of great needs and stress but also in times of great joy, times of plenty, little joys and little stresses — grateful that we are no longer slaves to sin and death, even though we still slip up all the time. We are free and if we chose Him, eternity with Him lasts a long time.
So with this in mind, I am very grateful to God for my many blessings, like Brad inviting me to participate in this wonderful discussion. Thank you to all of you who participated in the discussions and the very fine responses. It has truly been an honor to be associated (even in a very small way) with this excellent group of writers.
— Pat Tarzwell was born conservative, runs a successful hi-tech business, and lives a red-state life in a deep blue one.
I The Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: You shall have no other gods beside me. Deuteronomy 5:6-7. TANAKH, Jewish Publication Society.
The words [of the law] were uttered not for one people alone, and not for one age, but for all peoples and for all generations until the end of time. And as the Ten Commandments were a renewal of the act of creation, so the generation of life depends on the second act of creation, the giving of the law. And just as the first act of creation made a division between chaos and order, so the second act of creation made a division between good and evil, between right and wrong. From this day forth there would be a center of reference, a line of conduct, a standard whereby to measure good and evil in all the corners of the earth, for all men and for all generations until the coming of the great day of God.” From the commentary leading into Exodus 19 in the Plaut Chumash (The Torah: a modern commentary, edited by W. Gunther Plaut) (citation: S. Ascham, Moses, P. 233).
And now we circle from the end to the beginning, and as God Himself has decreed, He is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. And the first shall be last and the last shall be first. W. Gunter Plaut in his writing, the Plaut Chumash, ibid., refers to the giving of the Law as the second act of creation, of making a division between good and evil, that being the center of reference for all men for all time.
Now that we have seen the training wheels of the Ten Commandments, which all must follow as the “law that brings us to Christ”, we come to the heart of the matter, God Himself, the Great I AM, and the why of putting Him and His Laws first in our lives.
In a world where people reject God, they also find it imperative to deny His laws as they turn from the light. The battle between light and dark, good and evil has raged from the beginning and will continue until the end: “. . . the coming of the great day of God.” Ibid.
One of the criticisms of the Ten Commandments made by those who wish to become gods unto themselves, has been that God, the Great I AM, tells us He must be first in our lives and that he is a “zealous” (TANAKH), or a “jealous” (KJV) God. Some philosophers have equated God as a selfish being for His insistence that we worship Him above all else. Why would a God who loves His children say we must put Him first? Is He really a jealous God? Are we to be slaves to such a God?
To become a person of faith in the great God, we must first understand who we are, where and who we came from and where it is we want to go. We need to get a clear picture of our journey here on earth. Do you believe God created you, that there is a purpose for your existence, or do you think you are just another “animal”, a product of evolutionary chance with no clear reason for being? Which would be the most satisfying answer? Most importantly though, which answer is the truth? This we must know lest we be led astray.
As a youngster I and my siblings had very little religious training, although my mother sent us to church on Christmas and Easter, and occasionally in between. My father at that time spoke against all religions. With no one to teach me, how was I to know who or what God was?
I was eight when my most beloved grandfather died. I saw him in the casket not breathing and went to bed that night and thought to hold my breath to see what not breathing would feel like. I was terrified by the overpowering physicality that required me to breathe. As I looked into the darkness, I thought of my grandpa and wondered if someone would show him where to go. Otherwise how would he find his way? I was empty inside and I had no feeling for eternity.
For several years I thought only of the loneliness of death, the awful feeling of not being able to breathe. Then one day when I was about thirteen I knew to end my fear I had to find out if God was a reality. I went to my favorite “thinking spot,” a split rail fence where I often sat to gaze at the mountains. I looked at all the beauty around me and asked God directly if He lived. He didn’t answer right away but I stayed where I was just thinking and looking. I don’t know how long it was, but suddenly a still voice came into me that said, “Don’t you see how beautiful it is? Do you really think that happened by accident?” I looked again with new eyes. Warmth washed over my whole body and I knew beyond doubt that God is real and that He had created the earth and all of us for a purpose. For some time that knowledge was enough for me.
As I grew and studied and thought more on the matter, I came to know that every person who has ever lived does so at the will of God, that The Lord of Heaven and Earth has a plan for you and me, but we are responsible for discovering our part in that plan for ourselves. Life was not meant to be easy, and I do not believe we were made to dwell forever as children in Eden.
We are the ones who must find our gifts and strengths, and to overcome our weaknesses. The only way we can accomplish our goals is to put God first. If we think only of our own desires we run the risk of becoming weak, becoming a law unto ourselves and losing our way completely. We are not to trust in the insecure “arm of flesh” lest it become our idol, whether that arm is our own or belongs to someone else.
Part of the First Commandment is to remember that God led the children of Israel out of the “house of bondage”. The writer Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg in her book The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus, refers to many Jewish commentators who teach that only a free people are capable of redemption. One of the greatest of those commentators, Rashi, taught that even Moses himself wondered if slavery in Egypt had so changed the Israelite people that there was little hope for them to accept liberty. It would take forty years of wandering in the desert wilderness to train and prepare a younger generation to make an attempt at freedom.
Even as God led the Children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, He is also the God who redeems us and brings us out of the bondage of sin and idolatry by turning us outward to Him first. Idolatry is easy, and the first idolatry really is to worship yourself.
All of God’s Commandments revolve around freedom and of turning to Him, the source of light and truth, to keep us free. If you love God with all your heart, might, mind and strength, then you will increase in love to your spouse and children and fellow beings. You will want to treat them well.
This Commandment is the first step in a return to spiritual health – “for all men and all generations until the coming of the great day of God.” ibid.
— Anniel is a frequent contributor to StubbornThings and suggested this symposium.
God made us. We didn’t make Him. That is the crux of it all.
When He introduced Himself to Abraham, He said, “ I am that I am.” He is absolute, eternal existence. (When I use the pronoun He, 1. I am not implying that God has male genitalia, and 2. I am not discounting the issue of the trinity –that’s another essay.) He always was and always will be. He is outside of time and space, which are mere inventions of His; therefore, He is eternal. He is perfect righteousness – the designer of all goodness. He is absolute justice – He can be because He is perfect goodness and He is omniscient, so He has all the facts. His justice is tempered by His astounding love – love so great He would allow His perfection to be punished, to take the penalty due us so that we would not have to bear it ourselves. He is faithful, unchanging and He is truth, in its most absolute sense. He is, in ways we can’t even understand, omnipresent, and He is omnipotent; the only thing He cannot do is countermand His own attributes — He can’t be unfair, or unloving, or deceitful. And He is sovereign – the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the Bright and Morning Star. He is light, and music, and laughter and joy. And everything we have, He created.
It seems, in light of all that, that it’s not too much for Him to demand that we “have no other gods before him.” Loyalty is a reasonable thing to ask of us. It also asks that we be truthful, that we not pretend He isn’t, that we not pretend that someone else is – Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Thor, Zeus. Add to these things the fact that God made us in His image, therefore the worship of some make-believe deity that we designed to look like us is especially blasphemous.
We could, as many an atheist does, insist that we need no God to behave well, and for a generation or two that works; truth dies a slow death. But sooner or later we end up with a mom who would murder her cheerleader daughter’s competition. Or we find women willing to kill nearly born babies and auction off the cadavers. Now, educated people are suggesting that the elderly just be euthanized. Sooner or later someone – a Hitler, perhaps – will come along and ask, “Why not?”
There will be no answer in the mind of the atheist, for without the existence of God, a perfect and almighty God, a just and demanding God, there is no earthly reason, no evolutionary rationale to treat your neighbor as you would yourself (Christ’s summation of the Decalogue). Without God there is no immediately evident reason for not having rampant, promiscuous gay sex with monkeys and 10-year-old boys. There is no way to tell if gassing Jews is wrong or not.
If we blow the 1st Commandment, we will eventually blow them all and if enough people in a society begin dissing their parents, cheating on the their wives, poisoning the cheating husbands, stealing everything that’s not nailed down, lying even when the truth would sound better, coveting everyone’s everything, then we have a society that needs constant, intense policing – martial law and a ruthless dictator. My sense is that we are very close to that tipping point. And why? Because for several generations now our children have been taught that Darwin was a greater prophet than Moses, that everything is the result of blind, purposeless, random mutations and therefore, as Dostoyevsky said, “all things are permitted.” We do not have the necessary self-discipline to follow those rules without the specter of God hovering over us. Remember the phrase “the fear of God?” We need more of that today.
But how can we fear God if science says He doesn’t exist? We can open our own eyes, observe for ourselves the breathtaking intricacy of nature – the miracle of the butterfly, which science still can’t fathom; the precise miniature machines that fill our cells with particular and productive activity; the minute meticulousness of all the parameters of natural law, precision so exacting that the slightest change would render the planet uninhabitable. So much in science points to the masterful design of an omnipotent artist that the question becomes, “How can we not believe?”(See Romans 1.)
And here’s the real bottom line: You can be an atheist, intellectual and refined, and deny God’s existence and behave however you want to, but the hard, unyielding fact is that you would be doing so while standing on the planet God created, breathing the air He perfected, using a body He designed, and believe what you will, worship who/what you will, God is going nowhere and you owe him exactly what the rest of us do. You will stand before Him in all His perfection and glory. God isn’t an elective course you can choose not to take. You can skip the class if you want, but the F will go down on your transcript. God demands of us reality: the reality of His perfection; the reality of our failure to measure up; the reality of God’s sacrifice to solve that problem. It is not at all too much to ask that we have no other gods before Him.
— Deana Chadwell blogs at ASingleWindow.com.
The Tenth Commandment Symposium
The Ninth Commandment Symposium
The Eighth Commandment Symposium
The Seventh Commandment Symposium
The Sixth Commandment Symposium
The Fifth Commandment Symposium
The Fourth Commandment Symposium
The Third Commandment Symposium
The Second Commandment Symposium