THE OTHER TEN COMMANDMENTS


          It's always surprising to me when everyone seems to miss the mark on a key biblical passage.  The Books of The Bible have been around in a form very close to what we have now since the early 17th Century.  Countless copies have been printed, while people have dedicated lifetimes to studying them.  Many folks consider them actual transcriptions of God's messages to mankind.  So how do we make such obvious oversights and mistakes when it comes to using, or miss-using, the text?

          A Big "For Instance" is the Ten Commandments.  These laws are held so sacred by much of society that copies are hung inside our courtrooms.  Many people quote them as the most important rules of God in the Old Testament.  And yet, if we read the book of Exodus as a narrative, it is obvious that we are quoting the wrong set of commandments.  

          Here's the narrative:  In Exodus,Chapter 19, the Israelites have come to the
Sinai Desert and are at the foot of  Mt. Sinai.  They prepare themselves, and Moses goes up the mountain with his brother Aaron for a summit meeting with God, who has "descended to the top of Mt. Sinai."  God speaks the Ten Commandments, and then He goes on to state a number of other laws concerning a wide range of topics --  from slavery to social justice, mandatory festivals to the execution of murderous farm animals.  By Chapter 24 Moses and Aaron and a group of elders have returned up the mountain to receive tablets which contain ALL the laws (apparently not just the first 10), and then they are given lengthy instructions on ark building, tabernacle construction and sacrifice making, along with considerable rules on proper religious attire.  This takes us to Chapter 32, where Aaron is pushed into creating a golden calf image (despite his personal visits with The Almighty on the mountain).  Moses, who has been lingering on the mountain with God, is told that his people  have been worshiping a golden calf and are almost ready to "indulge in revelry," but Moses argues with God not to punish the people for their sins.  Moses descends to the camp, and in a rather curious fit of anger, considering the discussions he has just had with the deity, breaks the two tablets containing all the laws written in the preceding 10 chapters.  The Hebrews are sent packing out of the Sinai and begin their takeover of the Promised Land, and by Chapter 34, God again orders Moses to "chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones."  These are then called in verse 28 "the Ten Commandments".  

          But they are not quite like the first set of 10 we read back in Chapter 20.  Here they are, beginning in Chapter 34:14:

(1)"Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

(2)"Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they     prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices.  And when you choose some of their daughters as wives     for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.

(3)"Do not make cast idols.

(4)"Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you.  Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of
Egypt.

(5)"The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock.  Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck.  Redeem all your firstborn sons.

(6) "No one is to appear before me empty-handed.

(7) "Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

(8) "Celebrate the Feast of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.  Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel
.  I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.

(9)  "Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Feast remain until morning.

(10) "Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.  Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk."


    This recitation of the newer, improved version of the Big 10 concludes (Ex. 27-28):  "Then the Lord said to Moses, write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with
Israel.  Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water.   And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant the Ten Commandments."

    The obvious question here is why have we been skipping these important commandments all these years?  Are they too Jewish for Christian consumption?  Did people simply like the first set of rules better, since they sounded more universal?  Did we believe that the line about cooking a young goat simply did not belong in a list of such important commandments?  Is this a case of "mass editorializing" on a grand scale? There are obviously no easy answers.
    
          And one can't help noticing that the second set of commandments is not at all concerned with killing, stealing, cheating or other things we humans do to each other.  This set of commandments is about how we are to behave toward The Deity, a deity who sounds, perhaps because of the translation into English, rather petty  and testy.  We may obey such a ruler as this, but we would have trouble liking a deity who for some unknown reason doesn't like yeast.  Why did He make it in the first place?  

          For those of us who love the Bible but don't worship the book as a sacred object, there is no real problem with the fact that man has consistently overlooked the final version of the Ten Commandments.  This simply shows how man's attitude about the nature of reality has changed and grown over the centuries -- as it will continue to do.  The Lord who was concerned about yeast and goats in Exodus becomes a Lord who, by the Book of Micah, expects us only to "love mercy, seek justice and walk humbly with our God," or who, by the Book of Luke in the New Testament, wants us only to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.  Yeast and goats are no longer an issue.    

        So perhaps our opinion of God is evolving right along with the rest of our intellect, and  God may or may not change.  After all, a deity should have the right to set the rules any way He/She wishes.  Our Bible appears to reveal a God who is, shall we say, unfolding.  At my now mature point in life, I can handle that possibility.  Jesus taught that the only fixed points are Spirit and Love -- God is a spirit and He loves us.  Doesn't sound like much written this way, but it carried Jesus through His life, and I have faith that it can do the same for all of us.