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1 And Moses [Moshe] called all Israel [kol Yisroel], and said unto them, Hear, O Israel [Shema, Yisroel], the statutes and judgments [chukkim and mishpatim] which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep [be shomer], and do them.
2 Yahweh our elohim made a covenant [Brit] with us in Horeb [Chorev].
Yahweh's covenant - The Ten Commandments.
It is customary to speak of these ten commandments as "the moral law". This is an objectionable description on two grounds: it takes for granted a false theory of "morality ", and it ignores the divine estimate and description of the ten commandments. The false assumption of human philosophy is that" the moral law" is as natural and spontaneous a thing as the physical laws of the universe. It is assumed that the ten commandments are as natural as the law that you must have air to breathe and food to eat before you can live, and that their obligation arises from the constitution of things, and not from their having been enjoined by divine authority.
The "moral law" is thus thought of as a part of nature, and not as the appointment of God. This view will upon study be found a fallacy, and like all fallacies, it works confusion in the applications of knowledge. If the so-called moral law were an element in the nature of things, it would be found asserting itself like the law of gravitation or the law of eating and drinking. Instead of that, man left to himself is an ignorant savage, who kills and steals with as little scruple as a lion or a tiger. He has no idea of wrong in these acts. He never exhibits the conception of moral restraint till the idea has been introduced to him by some process of instruction.
Even Paul (in Rom. :2:12-15), where he is supposed to sanction the idea of an instinctive sense of right and wrong among "the Gentiles which have not the law ", recognizes that men are only "a law unto themselves ", and "do by nature the things contained in the law ", when "the work of the law" has been "written in their hearts" (see verse 15). It is very few Gentiles who have been the subject of this operation. His testimony of the world in general harmonizes with experience to this day, that "the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God" (Rom. 8: 7), and that the Gentiles unilluminated "walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened," and are without God and have no hope (Eph. 4: 18; 2: 12).
Those who had had "the work of the law written in their hearts" had had it so written by the pen ministration of the Spirit of God by the instrumentality of the apostles, as Paul says: "Written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart" (2 Cor. 3:3). These were "the Gentiles" of whom Paul writes in Rom. 2. The rest he speaks of as "other Gentiles who walk in the vanity of their mind" (Eph. 4: 17).
If the ten commandments were the moral law, and the moral law were "a law of nature", killing could never be right, whereas the killing of the Canaanites became Israel's duty (Deut. 20: 15-17), and the killing of the Amalekites, Saul's duty, for failure in which Saul was ejected from the kingship (1 Sam. 15:3, 23). It is the wrong view of the subject that creates what are called "the moral difficulties of the Old Testament". People holding it read of the slaughter of the Canaanites and many other things with a shock for which there is no ground at all.
Duty is obedience to the commandments of God, and not the following of a supposed natural bias. Natural bias may be whim and darkness. The keeping of the commandments of God is the following of the light, whatever the commandments are. He makes alive, and has a right to kill, and when he says "Kill ", it is wickedness to refrain. The slaughter of the wicked Canaanites was by the order of God, and became an act of righteousness. So with all the other so-called "difficulties" They are difficulties that vanish with a right understanding.
The ten commandments are only to be rightly estimated by God's own description of them. He calls them (Exod. 19: 5) "My covenant". Moses says: "He wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments" (Exod. 34: 28). Also in his rehearsal to Israel on the plains of Moab, at the end of the forty years, he said:
"Yahweh spake unto you out of the midst of the fire And he declared unto you his covenant... even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone". The rest of the law is treated as an appendix to these: "And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it" (Deut. 4: 12-14). The "sanctuary" and "ordinances of divine service", prescribed in what is called the ritual and ceremonial law, in its detail, are scripturally treated as mere appurtenances and amplifications of "the first covenant" promulgated from Sinai in the ten commandments (Heb. 9: 1). Of the allegorical significances contained in these, it will be our duty to enquire by and by.
The Mosaic view of the ten commandments as God's covenant with Israel, agrees with the historical allusions they contain, and with the fact that they were addressed exclusively to Israel. A "moral law", in the sense of modern parlance, would be as much the concern of the Chinese and the Babylonians as of the Jews: it would be of universal application--and it would not start off with a circumstance so local and historical as the Exodus, which is the substance of the first commandment and the basis of the other nine:
"I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt"
It is in fact, unsuitable and unjust to the subject to regard the ten commandments in any other light than that in which the Mosaic record exhibits them: namely, as a speech from God to Israel, defining the leading maxims on the basis of their consent to which He would choose them as His people:
"Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven". "Now therefore if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth in mine" (Exod. 19: 5-6).
This view is also in accord with the undoubted and otherwise extraordinary declaration of the New Testament that this covenant, "written and engraved on stones ", has been done away. Paul calls it "the ministration of death, written and engraven on stones", because a curse was pronounced on everyone that should infringe any of its enactments (Deut. 27:26). James's application of this curse is so stringent as to make a man who transgressed one of the commandments an offender against all.
His argument is : "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all: for he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law" (James 2: 10).
Because, therefore, the Mosaic law condemned to death those who should disobey any of the ten commandments, or their engrafted corollaries, and because no man was capable of a spotless obedience (save Christ), they were in their totality a "ministration of death, written and engraven in stones"; and had they continued in force against men, their condemnation would have been inevitable and their salvation impossible.
Consequently, it was necessary that they should be "done away", as Paul three times expresses it in 2 Cor. 3:7-14; or "taken out of the way", as he has it in Col. 2:14--not taken out of the way, in the sense of being abandoned as a rule of acceptable behaviour before God, but taken out of the way in the sense of Christ discharging their whole claims in every sense and then dying under the curse of the law of which they formed the kernel or foundation--a law which in another clause enacted "Cursed is he that hangeth on a tree", and therefore cursed Jesus who so hung as Paul declares, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree" (Gal. 3:13).
6 I am Yahweh thy Elohim, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt [Eretz Mitzrayim], from the house of bondage [bais avadim].
This was the simple and all-sufficient preamble to the whole of the ten commandments. What a world of meaning was compressed into the brief compass of that simple affirmation. The One who spoke was He who had proved Himself Lord of the entire earth in the very process, ironically enough, of proving Himself the Saviour of Israel In particular. How tellingly the connection was thus shown between the redemption of Israel and its duty. God who addressed them had demonstrated Himself to be the supreme arbiter of human destiny, the one eternal God: so none dare deny Him the obedience He desired.
Law and Grace Ch 6
7 Thou shalt have none other gods [elohim acharim] before Me.
How appropriate and how inevitable was this first commandment in view of the preamble. To acknowledge any other god as real (whether by actual avowal or simply by their mode of life) would be to deny the whole meaning of their redemption and make mockery of the Covenant.
"Hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?" The answer to Moses' question was clearly "No". Why then had God done it? "Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him" (Deut. 4 : 34-35)·
God is one: that was the burden of the first commandment. Its implications were tremendous. Since He is One none other exists; therefore none other can contend with Him for loyalty, and all who do so merely declare themselves thereby to be no gods. With that rejoinder Christ, when sorely tried, exposed the devilishness of the devil and withstood his guile (Matt. 4 : 8- 10). "Hear 0 Israel", was Moses' appeal to the nation, "the Lord our God is one Lord".
For Moses this was much more than a mere profession of faith: it was also an emphatic statement of Israel's moral duty. He saw in God's One-ness an imperative claim upon man for one-ness of service, for undivided loyalty, for total, unreserved devotion which leaves no part of the complex nature of man unenlisted. So he added, as a significant commentary,
"And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut. 6 : 4-5)'
Such was to be the conception of worship that was to dominate the thinking of the Covenant People and induce them to be obedient in all things. That alone would save them from trying to serve two masters (Luke 16 : 13), or to receive honour one of another rather than seek the honour which comes from the only God (John 5 : 44, R.v.).
That conception of worship essentially entailed a conception of God which was wholly spiritual. "Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else" (Deut. 4: 39)·
God, that is, is everywhere present, for He is Spirit; His authority is therefore absolute and brooks no gainsaying by wayward man. "Thou shalt keep therefore his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for ever".
Israel were to realize that deliverance from Egypt had not been a pointless act, but one with a moral purpose, namely that they should reflect God's holiness in their way of life. If they failed to conform to that purpose their survival would be in jeopardy. As with Egypt, so with Israel; as they treated God so He would treat them.
Law and Grace Ch 6
8 Thou shalt not make thee any graven image [ pesel], or any likeness [temunah] of any thing that is in heaven [Shomayim] above, or that is in the earth [Ha'Aretz ] beneath, or that is in the waters [mayim] beneath the earth [ha'aretz]:
Tellingly, the preamble to the commandments as a whole, together with the very first of the ten, put everything into correct perspective. The second was designed to ensure that Israel's conception of Yahweh should remain purely spiritual, and not degenerate into the worship of Him, the Invisible, through the medium of some visible material symbol.
The people's desire for one to intervene between them and God received God's approval as a becoming confession of unworthiness on their part. Moses was at once appointed to be their go-between each time God wished thenceforward to speak with them (Deut. 5 : 23-29). But whereas a man was on this unique occasion allowed to act as go-between when God chose to speak to man, it was made emphatically clear that no man-made device would in turn be tolerated as a medium of communication when man chose to offer worship to God.
If the nation chose to renounce its privilege of hearing God speak to it directly, God certainly had no intention of renouncing His own right to receive worship on His terms alone. While therefore "the people stood afar off" and "Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was" , the first thing that God instructed Moses to do was remind the people that they had seen no visible representation of Himself during the brief period when the Ten Commandments sounded forth, and that therefore no attempt should be made to reproduce it or to symbolize it in any way as an aid to the "worship of Him. "
Not even the worship of the heavenly bodies offered specifically in recognition that it was He that made and moved them all would be acceptable to Him (Deut. 4: 19). One representation only would He allow of Himself, one that was necessary for the solemn ritual of the Covenant ratification (Exod. 24 : 4) or other ceremonial occasions such as that when the Law was engraved on stones on Mount Ebal (Deut. 27 : 1-8). This unique object was to be an altar. But even then it was emphatically to be only an adjunct of worship and in no sense an object of worship-"thou shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings and thy peace offerings, thy sheep and thine oxen".
And to stress once again with the utmost emphasis that even such a representation of Himself should not be graven in any way by art or man's device, it was specified, "An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me ... 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" (Exod. 20 : 24-25).
That is, its constituent parts were to be God-made not man-made. Finally and even more emphatically, "Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon" (verse 26). Those organs which enable man to procreate might be regarded as endowing him with the same creative power as God Himself, a notion akin to the perverted one which formed the basis of the revolting fertility cults of those and later days.
Such cults were abhorrent to the Creator, and no altar of His was to be, even in the most incidental way, profaned by those who ministered at it, as were the altars at which pagan priesthoods ministered (often in the nude) to the fiendish gods of their own devising.
God thus desired both the exclusive worship of His People, and the offering of it in the spiritual way appointed, "for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God" - jealous not from pique or petty vindictiveness, as in the case of man; but only in vindication of His absolute Holiness.
Hatred of Him is hatred of His Holiness: since He is Holy, out of consistency He must meet the challenge - which He does by "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me". Jesus himself warned the false teachers of his day of the inexorable character of this law (Matt. 23 : 32-35). But love of Him calls forth in turn His transcendent mercy and willingness to forgive, for He is gracious (Exod. 20: 6; 34: 6-7)
Law and Grace Ch 6
11 Thou shalt not take the name [Shem] of Yahweh thy Elohim in vain: for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name [Shmo] in vain.
Both the flippant and the deceitful use of the divine name were strictly forbidden. The flippant use was a token of gross and perilous disrespect. The deceitful use brought Him, the faithful and true God (as the Exodus had proved Him to be), into association with falsehood, and so profaned His Name (Lev. I9: I2). In such a case a Sin Offering was necessary to cleanse the offender of his guilt, with all that that entailed by way of publicity (Lev. 5: I).
As for the downright blasphemer, he had to die the death (Lev. 24 : 10-16). Thus was reverence for God's name ensured.
Law and Grace Ch 6
15 And remember that thou wast a servant [eved] in the land of Egypt [Eretz Mitzrayim], and that Yahweh thy Elohim brought thee out thence through a mighty hand [yad chazakah] and by a stretched out arm [zero'a]: therefore Yahweh thy Elohim commanded thee to keep [be shomer Shabbos] the sabbath day [Yom HaShabbat].
The memory of the cruelty of the bondage which he had suffered in Egypt was to burn itself into his consciousness. Not only was its bitterness to dissuade him from returning thither: it was also to inspire him to noble endeavour.
The recollection of that wonderful sense of relief which the break with Egypt had meant to him at the outset was to constrain him to be faithful to the Sabbath laws and to appreciate their purpose.
The Israelite was not to deny to others the rest which he himself had been so grateful to receive. The memory of the cruelty of his former masters should thus restrain him from repeating their injustice against those in his own employ.
"If thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him,"
And why should this be? There was one simple, all-sufficient reason:
"And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee : therefore I command thee this thing this day" (Deut. 15 : 12-15).
Law and Grace Ch 3
The Exodus which gave Israel rest from Egyptian bondage was emblematic of the same truth, so that truth was wrought into the Covenant between God and them and cormmemorated by the law of the seventh day, the number seven thus becoming the Covenant Number (cf. Deut. 5: I4-15).
In the Shewbread, Sabbath by Sabbath, Israel as God's Covenant People confessed the obligations of their calling to be the total daily dedication of themselves to God's service. In the seven lamps they acknowledged their duty to be likewise that of shining forth in the world as His witnesses, and the vehicles of His Spirit.
Law and Grace Ch 5.
21 V'lo tachmod (neither shalt thou covet, desiring) thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's bais [house], his sadeh [field] , or his eved [manservant] , or his amah [maidservant], his ox, or his donkey , or any thing that is thy neighbour's.
To kill, commit adultery and steal was to offend against one's neighbour in deed; to bear false witness was to offend against him in word; to covet what was his was to offend against him in thought (whence words and deeds both spring). Nothing could be more comprehensive or more manifestly make everything contingent upon absolute respect for one's fellow-man than this commandment in particular.
Law and Grace Ch 6
22 These words [devarim] Yahweh spake unto all your assembly [Kahal] in the mount out of the midst of the fire [eish], of the cloud [anan], and of the thick darkness, with a great voice [kol gadol]: and He added no more. And He wrote them in two tables [luchot] of stone, and delivered them unto me.
He added no more.
It means, then, that the voice that proclaimed the ten commandments stopped abruptly at the prohibition of covetousness. Nothing was added to the oral delivery from the mount--no tapering off--no peroration--no gradual and ornamental finish, as there had been no exordium or oppropriate introduction--no rounded periods--none of the mere arts of rhetoric: nothing beyond solemn substance and meaning.
There must have been something very impressive in this sudden cessation of "the great voice ", as there was in its sudden commencement in the pause after the terrific overture. The whole method of their communication seems to mark off the ten" words "or commandments with a special emphasis, as possessing a peculiar and leading importance: for not only were they rehearsed in the hearing of the whole assembly, but immediately afterwards, as Moses records, "the Lord wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto him" for special preservation.
Law of Moses - Ch3