Thursday, September 8, 2011

10 Commandments, 2 Places (Ex. 20 & Deut. 5)

In which two Old Testament books are the Ten Commandments recorded? Exodus (20:1-17) and Deuteronomy (5:1-21)

The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, are foundational laws given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-21). They appear twice in the Old Testament, both times in the Law, in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Moses first communicated the Ten Commandments after descending from Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17) and then reiterated them in his final discourse to the people (Deuteronomy 5:1-21). This is not surprising as Deuteronomy is a retelling of the law. The name Deuteronomy means “second law”. Churches have given preferential treatment to the version given in Exodus.

The Ten Commandments are referred to elsewhere in the Bible as the ten devarim (“statements”) which is why they are grouped as a unit of ten (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13, 10:4). Early English Bible translations Tyndale (1530) and Coverdale (1535) referred to them as the “ten verses”. The Geneva Bible (1560) appears to be the first English translation to use “tenne commandements”, which established the precedent for the King James Version (1611). Various religions and denominations number the commandments differently. (To see different ways in which the Ten Commandments have been grouped, click here.)

There are subtle differences in the two versions of the Ten Commandments. One glaring dissimilarity is seen in the rationale behind keeping the Sabbath, the fourth commandment. The first version cites the precedent of God resting on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2:1-3). Exodus reads:

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:11 NASB)
In contrast, Deuteronomy explains:
“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15 NASB)
Compare and contrast the two versions of the Ten Commandments. What differences do you notice? Does it bother you that there are different reasons given to explain the fourth commandment? Which is the real reason for observing the Sabbath?

Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164) explained that Deuteronomy did not need to repeat the reference to creation in recording the fourth commandment as Deuteronomy itself refers back to the command from Exodus with the words “as the Lord your God has commanded you (Deuteronomy 5:12 NASB).” Instead, Moses revealed an additional motive for the command.

Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) gave equal weight to both rationales for the Sabbath command. He explained, “God commanded us to abstain from work on the Sabbath, and to rest, for two purposes; namely, (1) That we might confirm the true theory, that of the Creation, which at once and clearly leads to the theory of the existence of God. (2) That we might remember how kind God had been in freeing us from the burden of the Egyptians - The Sabbath is therefore a double blessing: it gives us correct notions, and also promotes the well-being of our bodies (Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, 406).”

The two explanations given for observing the Sabbath do not contradict one another. One action can be completed for more than one reason, hence the expression killing two birds with one stone. A person eats to sustain life but might also eat to enjoy a good meal or to celebrate an event. Why did they eat? All reasons might be equally accurate.

Jesus resolved that God instituted the Sabbath for humanity’s benefit - “ The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27 NASB).

What examples can you find of people performing one action for multiple reasons? In what ways does the Sabbath benefit humanity? Do you observe the Sabbath? If so, why?

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