Exodus: The Decalogue

   Exodus gives an account of the birth of Moses among the Israelites in Egypt, his summoning by Yahweh, the plagues which persuade the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, the ceremony of the Passover before their departure, and the establishment of the Covenant between Yahweh and the Israelites at Sinai. Efforts to check the historical accuracy of the story have been unsuccessful because of the lack of Egyptian evidence; the importance lies not in its closeness to fact, but in the account of the Passover, the Covenant, and the Law, which are the foundation of the self-consciousness of the Israelite people and their special relationship to Yahweh. If Genesis is about the foundation of humanity and the Israelite people, Exodus is about the foundation of the Israelite nation . The key event of this foundation is the Law (Torah); the foundation of the Torah are the ten commands given to the tribes of Israel at Mt. Sinai, the so-called "decalogue."

   The Hebrews first became a recognizable historical entity about 1950 to 1800 B.C., when, under the leadership of Abraham, they left the cities of Mesopotamia and moved westwards (Genesis 11.31 ff.), eventually reaching Palestine under the leadership of Abraham's son, Jacob. Sometime after 1600 B.C., some of these tribes, called Israelites after Jacob, i.e., Israel (Genesis 32.28), moved into the Nile delta to escape a famine, and lived under the Pharaoh's rule until about 1300-1250 B.C., when they were led through the Sinai peninsula north to the east of the River Jordan and eventually, after generations of fighting, west into Canaan (Palestine), the "Promised Land."

   The Passover feast (Exodus 12) commemorates Yahweh's "passing over" the houses of his chosen Israelites when he destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians. The Covenant ("binding agreement") between Yahweh the God and the nation of Israel was struck at Mt. Sinai after Yahweh had showed his special concern for the Israelites by rescuing them from Egypt. According to its terms, Israel was to remain loyal to Yahweh alone and obey his Law; in turn, Yahweh would be bound to his "chosen" people. The Law given by Yahweh begins at Exodus 20 (the "Ten Commandments" or "The Decalogue") and continues through the rest of the book, through Leviticus , and into the first half of Numbers ; it is recapitulated in Deuteronomy (which means in Greek, the "Second Law"). These first five books are called the Pentateuch (Greek), or the Torah, which is a Hebrew word meaning "Law" or "Instruction." Passover, Covenant, and Law gave the Israelites a national identity and bound them together in a closed society in which religious, civil, and legal elements were undifferentiated, for all derived from Yahweh. In most other respects, economy, technology, architecture, language, the Israelites were little different from their neighbors; but their traditions and religion were unique. They repudiated other gods, which other religions did not always do; however, in their early period, the Israelites were not necessarily monotheistic, that is, believing in only one god.

   The following extract is my translation ( 1994, Richard Hooker)


THE DECALOGUE

EXODUS 20.1-20

1 And God spoke all these words, saying,
2 I am Yahweh, your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery,
3 There will be no other god for you before me.
4 You will not make for yourself any idol in the image of anything in the heavens above or anything on the earth below or anything in the waters below the earth.
5 You will not bow down to them and you will not worship them, for I, Yahweh, your god, am a jealous God, punishing the father's sins on his children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,
6 But showing love to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.
7 You will not take the name of Yahweh, your God, and misuse it, for Yahweh will not hold guiltless whoever takes his name and misuses it.
8 Remember the day of the Sabbath and keep it holy.
9 For six days you will labor and you will do all of your work,
10 But the seventh day is the Sabbath to Yahweh, your God; you will not do any work, you, or your sons, or your daughters, or your servants, or your maids, or your animals, or any foreigner who lies within your gates.
11 For in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is within them, but he rested on the seventh day. For this Yahweh blessed the day of the Sabbath and he made it holy.
12 Honor your father and your mother so that your days may be long in the land that Yahweh is giving to you.
13 You will not murder.
14 You will not commit adultery.
15 You will not steal.
16 You will not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 You will not covet your neighbor's house, and you will not covet your neighbor's wife, or his servant or his maid, or his ox or his donkey, or anything of your neighbor's.
18 And then all the people saw the thunder and the lightening and the sound of the trumpet and the smoke from the mountain, and they trembled and they stood away at a distance.
19 And they said to Moses, "Speak to us and we will listen, but do not have God speak to us or we will die."
20 So Moses said to the people, "Be not afraid, for God has come in order to test you, and in order that you will fear him so you will not sin."
Translated from the Hebrew by Richard Hooker

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1996, Richard Hooker
Updated 2-17-97