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Torah Portions – Yitro – Exodus 18:1-20:23(26)

February 17, 2012

Last weeks Torah Portion is named for Moses’ father-in-law Jethro; it contains the acceptance of covenant between Israel and Yahweh the giving of the ten commandments.

In my study group we focused mostly on Jethro and the 10 commandments. In the portion Moses and the Israelites are encamped in the desert and Jethro approaches with Moses’ wife and two sons (after one of whom this blog is named.)  When Jethro approaches, Moses went out to meet him and did obeisance. 

Obeisance is one of those words we don’t use much in our society, frankly we don’t use the word because we don’t perform the action.  Obeisance is translated from the Hebrew word shachah which means to bow down, depress, or to prostrate oneself as before a superior person or God. What this means is that Moses, who was a great man – the leader of all of Israel, the man chosen by Yah to lead them from Egypt – went out before the camp and bowed to the ground before his father in law out of respect for the man. I think the reason we don’t do this is that we don’t have the respect of others like they had back then. Can you imagine the Governor of your state bowing to the ground in front of his father in law?

Moses then told Jethro all that Yahweh had done for them. Jethro rejoiced and offered burnt offerings and sacrifices before The Lord.  Something that is noteworthy here is that Jethro was the Priest of Midian. In our study there was some debate about whether he was a priest of Yahweh or of idols or some kind of mix between the two. I think that he was either a priest of Yahweh or possibly of Yahweh and others. My reasoning for this thought goes back to Exodus 2:18 where Jethro is refered to as Reuel – which means friend of God. With a nickname like that I have trouble believing that he wasn’t a friend of God. If God loves those who love him and hates those who hate him, I don’t think he would send his chosen agent of change for the original arab spring to spend 40 years living with and learning from some dude who made his living mocking The One True God with the fornication of idolatry.  Another point that was made in study a couple of weeks ago was that Jethro was a descendant of Abraham, so his family knew of Abraham’s God at one point.

Jethro watched Moses work from sun up to sun down judging each of the matters that came up between the Israelites. Jethro asked him what he was doing and Moses said, “When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make [them] know the statutes of God, and his laws.” Jethro told him that it wasn’t good for him to occupy all of his time like that; he suggested that he place men lacking in covetousness to rule over and judge the people.  There were two good points that were brought up here.  The first was brought up by our pastor who leans toward believing that Jethro was not a priest of The Lord, but rather of other deities; when someone gives you a good idea, take it. Don’t scorn an idea because of where it came from; take what you can use and leave the rest.  The second point is that Moses was teaching the people the Statutes of Yahweh – Remember, this is before anything was handed down at Mount Sinai – this shows, yet again, that the Laws, Statutes and Commandments of Yahweh are eternal and have been since the beginning; they aren’t here today and gone tomorrow.

 Chapter 19 is one of the best chapters in The Bible, this is the chapter where Yahweh asks the children of Israel to enter into covenant with him – to follow his statutes and commandments so that they may be a a kingdom of priests; a peculiar treasure above all the peoples of the earth.  There is a lot of depth here and I want to study more about it before I really blog on it.  I just don’t think I can do it justice yet.

Chapter 20 is where, after the children of Israel accepted God’s covenant, he hands down the 10 commandments.  This day was 50 days after passover, which means that it was Shavu’ot or Pentecost (there is a whole study that can be done on the feast days, but that will have to wait). We had quite a bit of discussion over the ten commandments. How are the commandments divided?  There is actually some controversy on this because in the original Torah there weren’t verses and chapters the way there are now.  There are actually three common sets of the ten commandments in use; a Jewish one called the Talmudic Division, One used by the Catholics and Lutherans called the Augustinian Division, and One used by protestant Christianity, Greek Orthodox and Hellenistic Jews which is called the Philonic Division.

In the Jewish version the first commandment is verse 2:

I [am] the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage

In both of the christian versions the first commandment is verse 3:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

So who’s correct?  One argument against the Jewish version is “That’s a declarative statement; where’s the commandment?”  The counter argument to which is that the commandment is to remember that YHWH is GOD. PERIOD.  Yahweh is the living God. Yahweh is the God of Abraham, of Issac, and of Jacob. You are to belive in HIM.

What about historical evidence?

The version used by Catholicism and Lutheranism is called the Augustinian division and it arose in the 5th century AD.  Both of the other divisions existed prior to this division. They believe the first commandment is: 

Exodus 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

 They arrive at their 9th and 10th commandments by dividing verse 17 into two pieces.  The rest of the commandments are formatted the same as the other divisions, but, obviously, they have different numbers assigned to them. This version is what I was taught as a child.

Since the other two divisions were in place centuries before this division, I’m inclined to give it less weight than I give to the other two divisions. I also don’t like the way that they split a verse in half to create two separate commandments. Now, as I said above the scriptures didn’t come “pre-numbered” into the verses we use today. I suppose it is entirely possible that they are supposed to be two separate statements, but it doesn’t make sense to me because both of them are about coveting. 

If we can say that the Augustinian Division is not likely correct for the reasons I stated above this leaves us with the Philonic Division and the Talmudic Division; which of these seems more likely to be correct? 

The Philonic Division is first recorded to exist during the first century AD by Philo and Josephus whereas the Talmudic Division is thought to have arisen around the third century AD.  Seems like the Philonic Division wins the age contest, right?  Maybe not. What if I told you that by the 1850’s it was documented that stones with mysterious markings on them, written in a language that no one knew how to translate, were known by locals to exist in the desert?  What if I told you that in the last 50 years archeological discoveries in a different desert provided the knowledge needed to read the stones? What if I told you that the stones were written in a form of ancient hebrew that fell out of use 500 years before Christ? What if I told you that the inscription on the stones were the 10 commandments as recorded in the Talmudic Division?

That makes a pretty strong case that the Talmudic Division is the oldest way of dividing the 10 commandments doesn’t it? Well there’s one hitch in the giddy-up. The desert that these stones were discovered in is in New Mexico. How did gigantic boulders with a lost hebrew language get into the American Southwest at least 150 years before anyone knew how to read the inscriptions?  The rock these are carved on is very large and is embedded into the ground. There are a bunch of theories out there as to how it got there. All that conventional archeology has to say about it is that it is a hoax. Problem is that this “hoax” has been perpetrated in not just New Mexico but also in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Tennessee, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and California where artifacts with the same kinds of Paleo-Hebrew inscriptions have been unearthed. 

There is a whole world of study that can be done on these artifacts. That isn’t what I’m trying to accomplish with this post today. Maybe someday in the future I’ll venture into that rabbit hole, but for today I’m going to leave you with this thought on how the commandments are numbered: I don’t think that the significance of the commandments is in how they are numbered, but rather that we honor each of the commandments given.

There was some more discussion over the ten commandments; namely it was pointed out that the familiar translation “Thou shalt not kill” would be better translated as “Thou shalt not murder”   The Hebrew word that was translated as “kill” is ratsach meaning to murder or slay or kill in a premeditated, accidental (careless), or vengeful way.

 In recent years there has been some controversy in these United States about whether or not the ten commandments can be posted in various public spaces; schools, court rooms, parks, government offices, etc. Most people consider the ten commandments to be part of the common religious heritage of Jewish and Christian faiths, but they completely miss the fact that the commandments are divided different ways by men. I know that I did. The question has to be asked, which version of the ten commandments are they trying to post and why?  As we explored above, Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism all divide the commandments in different ways. Once we decide on whose division to use  we have to decide which portion of scripture to copy them from. As an example let’s look at the Augustinian Division: Lutherans use Exodus when they write the commandments; Catholics use Deuteronomy! After we decide which portion of the Torah to copy the commandments from we have to decide on the translation, as we explored above, “Thou shalt not kill” would be better translated as a prohibition on murder.

So why does it matter what they are posting and why? When government decides to place one version above another, it is making preference to one religion over another in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

One parting thought on the commandments – They aren’t the only commandments in The Bible; it is more important that we obey the commandments than that we squabble over the divisions created by men.

After the 10 commandments are handed down the people are afraid of the voice of God – can you blame them? I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have sounded like. Moses tells the people not to be afraid, then God gives out several more commandments before the end of the chapter:

Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.

At some point in the future I’m going to post some thoughts about uncut stones.

Matthew 22:35-39

King James Version (KJV)

35Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 36Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Additional Thoughts on Yitro may be found HERE

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