Shavuot and the Ten Words of Liberty

Earlier this week, those of us who are Torah observant observed one of YHWH's three pilgrimage festivals, namely Chag HaShavuot or simply Shavuot, but it goes by many names.  HaTorah calls this day “Chag HaShavuot”, meaning “Festival of Weeks” presumably to emphasize the seven weeks counted between the Omer offering during Pesach and the day itself.  When Greek speaking converts and disaspora began to use Greek terminology, other terms were brought out.  The Greek version of Sefer HaMaasim (Book of Acts) calls this day “Pentecost” which in Greek means “Count Fifty” for its occurrence on the fiftieth day after counting the forty-nine days during that same seven weeks.

These are all fitting names, because both bring out something in the mitzvah from HaTorah which directs us to count from the Omer offering both the days and the weeks during this period until this special day is reached, but they aren't the only names.  Even HaTorah calls this festival by a different name from time to time, namely "Chag HaBikkurim", meaning the "Festival of Firstfruits", because part of the point of this pilgrimage festival was to bring the firstfruits of the harvest for an offering.

So all of these names are good and valid.  Personally though, I have my own pet name for this day.  I like to call it "Aseret" — because this is the day when YHWH came down on Mt. Sinai and spoke "Aseret HaDevarim", the “Ten Words”, before all of the camp of Yisrael.  This is the day he delivered the foundation of HaTorah from His Own Mouth in an amazing pyrotechnic display and a Voice so powerful that it could be seen.  Later, YHWH Himself cut tablets out of stone and by His Own Finger, wrote these same Ten Words on those tablets, and gave them to Mosheh on Mt. Sinai to take down to the people.

These Ten Words are considered foundational to Judaism and Christianity, yet I think they are misunderstood.  And a big indication of this is around the name they are often given in their legend.  While they are often called "The Ten Commandments" in theological circles, this is not what they were originally called.

The First Word -- Clearly Not a Commandment

Something that is very important to note here but is often glossed over is that our translation of these as “Ten Commandments” into English is not only woefully inadequate, but also ensures that we lose a lot of the context of their content and thus the purpose of their delivery.  The Torah originally called these the Ten Words, or more meaningfully to us as English speakers, the Ten “Sayings”.  It did this because these statements were not about bringing the people into a form of fettered obligation, but about keeping this newly unfettered people from falling again into another form of slavery.  The content of these "Words" that we refer to as "commandments" are actually intended to help their practitioners avoid falling into inescapable servitude.  They are about remaining free, not about a new form of obligation.

These are not laws to earn someone favor with Elohim... they are a gift of wisdom from the Elohim that released them from obligations to oppressive powers.  These are not “laws” to be freed from, as so many Christians erroneously believe, but words of wisdom that will keep one free when practiced.  These are not a crushing moral code to be redeemed from, but an ethical philosophy specifically gifted to the redeemed!

The First Word in the Ten Words isn't even a "do or don't" — instead YHWH sets the tone for the rest of the statements that will follow:

"I am YHWH your Elohim, who brought you out of the Land of Mitsrayim ('Egypt' in English), the House of Slavery ('avadim' in Hebrew)". (Shemot / Exodus 20:2)

The way Christians organize and number the Ten Words, they often do not consider this to be included among the Ten Words at all.  Many plaques of the Ten Words don't keep this text, and even those that do treat it as either only part of the First Word, or as a preamble before the actual "commandments" are given.  None of these practices are, in my opinion, the correct way to view this First Word.  This isn't a part of another subsequent "commandment", even though it doesn't "command" anything in and of itself..  And though it does specifically state the motivation behind the delivery of the remaining nine Words to follow, it isn't merely a preamble.  It is the first of the Ten Words in its entirety, standing alone to foster recognition of human liberty as an important theological concept.

An important thing to note in this verse is the word it uses for "bondage".  That word in Hebrew is "avadim", which is the plural form of the masculine word "avad".  In modern Hebrew, the same root word means "work" in general, both in noun and verb forms.  In ancient Hebrew, it could also mean this, but can and often does signify a more specific form of work.  Strong's Concordance defines the term as follows:

"עבד  → âbad  → aw-bad' → A primitive root; to work (in any sense); by implication to serve, till, (causatively) enslave, etc.  KJV Usage: X be, keep in bondage, be bondmen, bond-service, compel, do, dress, ear, execute, + husbandman, keep, labour (-ing man), bring to pass, (cause to, make to) serve (-ing, self), (be, become) servant (-s), do (use) service, till (-er), transgress [from margin], (set a) work, be wrought, worshipper." (Strong's Hebrew Lexicon Number H5647).

So "avad" is a term that implies more than consensual labor that the modern English term "work" implies; it's a term that referred more or less to work either arising from or leading to a state of indentured servitude or slavery.  It is a term that can mean numerous things in that regard, and it appears THROUGHOUT these "Ten Words".  As Robert D. Miller II of Catholic University of America points out in Lecture 7 of his Great Courses offering "Understanding the Old Testament", when you see the words "slavery" or "servant" or "slave" or "serve" or even "worship" in the Ten Words, that is translated from a Hebrew word built on the same root as "avad" in every single case.  (NOTE: This series of lectures from Dr. Miller has confirmed for me many important nuances over the years which I have run across in my studies and introduced to me many nuances I had not yet considered.  I highly recommend it to everyone.)

I'm going to attempt to take a two-tiered approach to describing what I believe is the intent and purpose behind these Ten Words.  For the first part of my analysis, I want to dwell on how these Ten Words are intended to keep us out of  "avadim", i.e. bondage rather than the often posited notion that these "Ten Commandments" were themselves a form of bondage from which "Christ" has freed us, and so I'm going to concentrate on just those portions first, to illustrate just how prevalent this point is in these Ten Words.  After that analysis, I want to diverge into why Elohim delivered these Ten Words to Yisrael to begin with.  He clearly had a purpose that transcends the similar notion that the Torah itself, for which these Ten Words provided a clear foundation, was delivered for the sake of a new form of contractual bondage from which Christians are supposedly freed at the cross.

The Second Word (Part One) -- No Slavery to Other Elohim

Let's take a look at the first part of the rather lengthy Second Word for instance, and note the use of the same root for "avad":

"You will have no other elohim ('gods') before my face.  You will not make for yourself a chiseled or carved image, nor any kind of likeness of anything that is in the sky above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you will not bow down nor serve them ("ta'ovdem" -- same root as "avad")..." (Shemot / Exodus 20:3-5)

Here the phrase "serve them" is often translated as "worship them", but both meanings are actually similar in this context, and both are built on the same root as the term "avad".  You have to understand why YHWH Elohim is specifically calling this out in this case.  In the ancient religions of the Middle East, both in Mitstrayim (Egypt), in Sumeria, and among the Phoenicians and Canaanites, the primary reason the "gods" created human beings was for those human beings to serve them and their interests.  To "feed" these "gods", human lives were from birth believed to be intended as lives of bondage to the "gods".  Kings and other aristocracy often escaped this fate by claiming some dual lineage between humans and "god", putting them into the position to also be served.

Notice that YHWH chose in this Second Word not to concentrate on service to Him, but instead to concentrate on the maxim of never serving other "gods".  Notice, He doesn't say here in this Word "You will serve me", but rather "Do not serve them", and understanding that choice of perspective is critical to understanding the point of these Ten Words.  As we'll see later on, YHWH isn't seeking this kind of service to him, but something more personal and more intimate.  We'll go into the remaining and more controversial part of this Second Word more deeply later along with an analysis of the Third Word to help establish this point of intimacy, but for now, I want this point made very clearly:  YHWH is explicitly framing relationships of people to other elohim  ("gods") as relationships of slaves to their masters, and by exclusion of calling for a similar arrangement by avoiding commanding a relationship with Him as one of this kind of perpetual indentured servitude, He is implicitly framing a relationship with Him as one different in kind.

The Fourth Word -- A Day of No Service

Skipping ahead to the Fourth Word, we read the following:

"Remember Yom HaShabbat, to 'qadosh' it (Hebrew 'l·qdsh·u', often translated as ' to keep it holy').  For six days, you will labor ("ta'avod" in Hebrew -- another form of "avad") and do all of your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat to YHWH Your Elohim.  In it, you will do no manner of work: neither you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor the foreigner living inside of your gates (or borders).  For in six days, YHWH made the skies, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore, YHWH has blessed Yom HaShabbat and He has 'qadoshed' it (Hebrew 'u·iqdsh·eu', often translated as 'and He sanctified it'." (Shemot / Exodus 20:8-11)

Notice that this Fourth Word about keeping HaShabbat by doing no work on it uses the same root as was used in the First Word to mean slavery or bondage.  That might seem out of place to us, because except in some form of hyperbole, most of us do not consider the work we do on a day to day basis a form of slavery.  But in order to understand why this was so revolutionary at the time, you have to understand that the lives of many traditional working class people at the time was largely filled with never-ending work.  It was unconscionable for most regular working class people to even consider having a day off from work every seven days.  These days, many of us have a weekend off, or at least one or two days off during the week, but in the ancient world, this was not at all the case.  And for working class people to take a day off every seven days from labor would have been seen not only as silly but downright irresponsible by many if not most of the cultures of the time.  Even when other cultures had days off on cycles, they were often built around economic activities (such as Rome's famous "market days"), resulting in a large number of the working class people remaining at work in support of the activities.

Shabbat is here made into an entire day of ceasing from any form of servitude, a day that comes every seventh day, and a day that was for everyone regardless of their social or economic rank -- even non-Israelites in the land, even the animals.  Even male and female servants are to rest.  That English translation to "servant" in this case is somewhat dishonest, because it refers not so much to household servants that have been hired for duties, but mainly to slaves and indentured servants.  An interesting thing to note is that the root term for the Hebrew term that is translated into English as "male servant" is "avdo", which is basically the same root as "avad", and its use here is an insistence that even slaves must be free men on Shabbat. Everyone was to rest from and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Yom HaShabbat was even for YHWH Himself, and by tying it to His act of making the Earth into a home for life and creating that life upon it, even the Elohim who does not tire nor become weary in our material sense, took time out to enjoy the fruits of His labors.  This is the biggest indication that, unlike the typical Christian narrative in its portrayal of Yom HaShabbat as a burden, that day is never a burden but is intended as a day of freedom.  Remember that for the theogonies and cosmogonies of Yisrael's neighbors on all sides in the Middle East, the purpose of existence was to labor for the elohim ("gods").  YHWH instead frames His labors, in the form of His act of creation, as something to be enjoyed by others, a service He did for all living things.  In a sense, YHWH places boundaries on ALL forms of work and service when he establishes a day of rest every seven days, allowing a free people to exit the rat race completely and fully and simply enjoy life for its own sake.  In a sense, Yom HaShabbat is the most striking example of the real intent of remaining free behind the Ten Words.  It signifies that life is about more than its labors, that living is about more than working.

The Fifth Word -- "Honor" Rather than "Serve"

Let's take a close look now at the Fifth Word, and given what we know about the use of the term "avad" and its forms here, we can also note the choice of alternate terminology Elohim chose to speak here:

"Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be long upon the land which YHWH Your Elohim is giving you." (Shemot / Exodus 20:12)

The first thing I want to note here is that YHWH goes out of His way to not use a form of the word "avad" that I mentioned before.  No root of "avad" is used here.  We are not told to do "avad" our fathers and mothers, but instead to give them a place of honor and to actually honor them.  I don't think this was an accident.  Choice of terminology in the Torah is often an implicit theological statement in and of itself, and I believe that to be the case here.

The Hebrew verb translated as "honor" is "kevad" Though "kevad" can have many meanings, including "liver" as a noun and "heavy" as an adjective, when used as a verb here, it refers to imparting an intense sense of value to the object of the verb, in this case, parents.  Rather than referring to an obligation to care for them, it instead refers to an intent to treat them as very valuable, as precious, and to keep heavy emotions for their lives and well being.  The intent of this verse, specifically around YHWH's choice of terminology here, is that parents are to be values not burdens, to be treasures not obligations.  And when we treat parents like this, our care for them is not in the role of a "servant", but in a similar role to our caretaking of our own children.

Everyone gets old and no longer able to sustain themselves.  Since we're all eventually to be in the position of being helpless in this sense, it is important that we have a culture of care around our parents in a similar way we do with our children.  It's important to understand a distinction here, because as I point out later, children you invest in while in a proper relationship are a blessing to your life and your house.  Though children created in some circumstances can end up being an obligation without rewards, and thus a form of servitude, outside of situations where you are able to invest more than simply financial means into their rearing, children take on a role in the seat of our emotions.  This doesn't speak to children being a burden, and that is not at all my intent, but rather to the necessity of fostering an environment in which children are not treated as burdens.  And that is what I believe the intent is here -- to foster an environment and attitude in which our parents are never in a position of being a burden but a great care in our lives.

In the West, we often have this attitude with respect to children (even if we are often woefully inadequate at creating that kind of environment or seeing these investments through to completion), but often miss the many ways that aging parents become a blessing to our homes.  So this sense of value we imbue to our parents would render our care for them, especially in their elder years, to be no more of a burden than the care we give to our children.  I think the reason YHWH says that honoring parents keeps the doer living long in the land is because of the culture that such an activity creates — a culture of loving parents as we love our own children creates an environment that simply fosters long life because it helps ensure that elderly people will not be at risk of being subject to the hardships of destitution and servitude in their old age.

The Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Words -- Freedom from Each Other

When we look at some of the remaining Words that I haven't looked at thus far, it's easy to see why so many confuse these Ten Words or Sayings as something more akin to commandments.  Let's take look at these:

"You will not kill.  You will not commit adultery.  You will not steal.  You will not bear false witness against your neighbor." (Shemot / Exodus 20:13-16)

Negative assertions like these make it seem like these are commands to behave yourself, that they are specifically commandments to guard your behavior for the sake of guarding it or else.  However, that view, despite being easy to understand, is very short sighted and once again misses the overall context of these Ten Words.  The real intent behind these is that these maxims of refraining from these actions is that these activities both create servitude in victims and obligations of recompense in the perpetrators of their violation.  They are intended to help us understand that we cannot remain truly free of servitude if we are easily made victims of each other, and they are designed to allow those who live by these words to avoid being on either end of such servitude.  The Ten Words are not only ethical maxims promoting individual freedom from bondage, but also promoting a culture of freedom from bondage.

Going over each of these, this should be rather obvious.  Taking someone's life is a theft of the most precious thing another individual has -- and it thus creates obligations that are not even remotely repayable by the one responsible for taking that life.  More fundamentally, a man whose very life blood is not under his own control cannot be said to have ownership of his own life:  his situation can be understood to be not only similar to but much worse than that of a literal slave whose life blood is spent as property in servitude of others.

Committing theft is a lesser form of this, but it also treats the life and work of another human being as something you can simply claim as your own.  Property, goods, food, and even money result from the work of yourself and others.  Theft of these things resulting from the work of others is effectively equivalent to making these people your servants.  To help rectify this, reparations are often called for to restore property to the affected and prevent them from being relegated to servants in this case.  Basically, theft naturally results in the creation of obligations for recompense, because by taking someone else's property, the fruit of someone else's labors, you are creating an obligation to repay.  You become a debtor, and these are debts you may never be able to repay depending on the target objects of the theft.  Either side of how a theft is treated result in some form of slavery to some other party.

And now we get to the statement directing refrain from providing false testimony or acting as a false witness.  It should be obvious that acting as a lying witness can only lead to a potential robbing of someone of their property, freedom, or even their life -- an injustice in the name of justice. For the perpetrator, the act creates obvious obligations.  The burdens fall on the one lying in this manner to rectify this -- it becomes his obligation, and again, this is possibly an obligation he can never truly repay.  A man who cannot repay his debts is a slave to them.

But obviously it isn’t just about the obligations it creates for the perpetrator, it’s about the liberty it robs from their victims.  Remember what I pointed out earlier: the Ten Words are not only ethical maxims promoting individual freedom from bondage, but also promoting a culture of freedom from bondage, about ensuring that the society that is created isn’t one in which we are victims of our fellows.  A society in which murder and theft become permissible, and in which one cannot achieve accurate justice due to false testimony, is one in which a man’s life and labors can never really be his own, and that is by definition a society of slavery, a society that becomes enslaved to the most dishonest and violent among them.

These activities bring this situation about because the perpetrator is violating the very sense of freedom that his victims have through his malignant actions, and so bringing others into servitude in this manner brings their perpetrators into servitude as well, even if they refuse to acknowledge it.  All of us believe in some system of justice that is intended to identify and press for recompense and other suitable "payments" for these obligations to act as both a deterrent for such violations and as a means for recovery of the losses that result, when possible.  Even anarchists of most sorts believe in some sense of natural grass roots justice that provides recompense and prevents predation.  Hence, it shouldn't be surprising that YHWH, the Judge of all of the Earth, also refuses to let these activities go.  Even if you refuse to acknowledge the obligations that you take on when you do such things, or the damage you have done in acting malignity against the liberties of others, YHWH Elohim will remember them, and He will hold you to them.

So those are clear, but what about the Word against adultery?  On the surface, it seems like marriage is the actual servitude, while escaping marriage is the act of freedom.  Let me be frank here: it only seems that way to us because our culture cynically frames marriage in this way.  What we should acknowledge here is that a marriage relationship is something that should be entered into with the intent of mutual edification and mutual benefit, in good will.  Both sides, when acting in this good will, treat their marriage as an on-going investment that brings constant dividends.  That is how the Torah portrays the marriage covenant.  So, to deceptively break that marriage through an act of adultery destroys an otherwise consensual constructive relationship that is based on mutual benefit rather than obligation.  And like it or not, this creates strange obligations to all parties.  Sex creates bonds, and bonds create hard feelings, even when we do not realize it.  Marriage is a way of making such inevitable bonds a positive thing, but breaking those bonds only fosters a broken relationship in the marriage itself.  At best, adultery fosters ultra weakened relationships with these other partners even when reconciliation and forgiveness have helped repair damage.  At its worst, such divisive relationships external to the marriage bond produce children, which creates obligations regardless of which partners the perpetrator ends up remaining with, or they disrupt relationships with existing children.  Children are supposed to be a blessing, and they are when someone is able to invest time and love and work into them and enjoy them as children should be enjoyed, but a man or woman who creates children with multiple partners outside of that bond creates for himself or herself on-going obligations, most of which are simply financial, and they do not always keep the ability to enjoy the relationship with those children to compensate that expense.  In short, adultery fundamentally changes the relationship between spouses, causing their relationships to go from being mutually beneficial arrangements of affection to become legal arrangements for compensation, and innocent children on either side of the aisle become not only victims of this, parents and children can end up having their strong symbiotic relationships reduced to mere financial ones.

The Tenth Word -- Freedom from Yourself

The last of the Ten Words is one of the more perplexing for most people, but it's also the one that carries my point about the intent of the Ten Words as maxims for individual and cultural liberty most concretely.  It says the following:

"You will not covet your neighbor's house.  You will not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbor's." (Shemot / Exodus 20:17)

If the Ten Words were intended to be a legal code, this would be the closest one to the kind of law that George Orwell's novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” would rightfully rain against.  When taken as "commandments" or "laws", the other statements at least can make sense in context as enforceable activities, but this one when taken as a "commandment" or a "law" instead creates a situation akin to the criminalization of thoughts, or what Orwell called "thought crime".

But if you've followed along so far, you can probably know that this is likely not the case.  The word for "covet" in Hebrew is "tachmod", which could also be translated into English as "envy", but envy doesn't completely cover it completely.  The reality is that there is no good English word I can think of to convey its meaning as it can range from "envy" to "obsession" to "obsession with intent to act".  The term seems to refer to something stronger -- it isn't mere desire but a desire with intent or more likely, a desire that is fed and fed to be strong enough to fuel a bad action.  For sexual activity, we would call such a thing something between "lust" and "limerance".  For any physical object, we would just think of it as a anything from a desire to a mania.  Simple desires for an item that your neighbor has isn't the same as a fueled desire that is preoccupying you, and avoiding that transition is the point of this Tenth Word.

That kind of desire promotes one of the more oppressive forms of servitude.  It prevents us from having a sense of well-being unless we gain some thing or things that are either unattainable or belong to someone else.  Remember, these are Ten Words or "Sayings".  They are not here called "commandments".  They are intended to prevent you from falling into a form of servitude.  "Keeping up with the Joneses" is a term we use in America to refer to the constant analysis of our own achievements and possessions with those of others, and how this can end up being a form of slavery.  I think it's clear here that YHWH would agree, but it's more than just the desire itself -- acting on the desires can end up creating obligations in the material word, not just in the mind.  Following this Word prevents one from allowing his own desires to become his taskmaster, but not just him — it also prevents him from robbing his fellows of their own liberty by allowing his desires to transition into obsessions or manias and provoke some kind of action against said neighbor for their property.  This Word takes the proactive approach by helping prevent its follower from fueling his own desires as well as preventing him from following up on those desires and violating the liberty of his fellows.

Something to take away from this -- we often hear that freedom is in the mind first, and that a man who is free in his mind is free.  I don't think we need to take an either-or situation here, and I don't think YHWH did this in this case either.  YHWH's speaking of these Ten Words show that slavery can be external and internal.

The Third Word (Part One) -- Using the Name to Seal Oaths

You may have noticed that I skipped one of the Ten Words so far, namely the Third Word.  I did this because I believe this one is by far the most difficult to really understand without some historical context, and as a result this one of the Ten Words that is very often very very misunderstood, or rather at least, only understood partially, by those who promote it the most.  This is traditionally translated into English as follows:

"You will not take the name of YHWH Your Elohim in vain, for I will not hold him guiltless who takes My Name in vain." (Shemot / Exodus 20:7)

The term for "vain" here is in Hebrew "shav".  It doesn't mean "vanity" as one might read this in modern English in the more archaic term "vain", but rather something more like "void" or "nothingness", or even "meaninglessness".  So taking at face value, this states that those who follow the Ten Words will not by any means make Elohim's name (which is actually the name "YHWH") void, that they will not bring it to "nothingness" or "meaninglessness", presumably by its misuse in some sense.  Further, He states that there are inescapable consequences to this attempted nullification of His Name.

The first sense of this actually goes back to the point I've been making all along so far, a point about not creating obligations of servitude.  Among Yisrael's neighbors, the name of an el ("god") was considered to be a powerful implement.  For some of these, it was powerful in the sense that it could be used in magic.  In these theological credos, it was impossible to use the names of these deities, without power, and in the case of misuse, without consequence.  Hence, these names also came to be used as a seal for various covenants and oaths.  Deity names would be used as the basis for vows and oaths to guarantee an obligation.  When someone made an oath or swore on the actual name of a deity, it was considered to be an obligation not only to the person for whose benefit you made the oath, but also to the deity himself.  When one violated an oath made against the name of a deity without consequence, he was voiding the name of that deity.

I won't compare these wayward elohim to YHWH, but this notion would definitely have been understood almost implicitly by any ancient Yisraeli simply via cultural osmosis.  Yisrael was familiar with the deities and myths of their neighbors, and so this concept would have made sense to them.  YHWH is the only Eternal Elohim, the only Creator, and this is in fact two of the meanings behind the name "YHWH" itself.  To Yisrael, His Existence had no beginning and no end, and if other elohim (or "gods") existed, then YHWH must have created them.  So YHWH's Name would especially have to be taken seriously in any usage.  To make an oath on His Name is to create an almost inescapable obligation to yourself -- to avoid "nulling and voiding" that Great Name, the oath would have to be followed through.  And if one is not released by YHWH Himself or the other party and still chooses not see it through, the implication is that YHWH will make sure your oath is kept, and His Name will not be voided by your actions.  So the warning is very clear -- don't make burdensome obligations for yourself by making oaths to His Name.  And this extends not only to oaths but in all uses of the name -- His Name must be carefully handled and treated respectfully at all times.

The Third Word (Part Two) -- An Intimate Relationship is by Name

But I think that notion that the Name of YHWH and its careless usage being able to lead to obligations is only half of the story, at best, and that's because there is a more involved point.  That point is built on not just the philosophical intent behind the substance of the Ten Words themselves, but also the very personal intent that YHWH had in delivering them to Yisrael in the first place.  YHWH is giving these Ten Words to the people that He has now freed because He wants them to be His very own people.  He was proposing to Yisrael to become His people, and asking them to follow these Words to help turn them into individuals and a society as a whole that were suitable to have a special relationship with Him.  And His intent in making such a relationship is that this people would be the cornerstone for His reclamation of the nations which He had previously disinherited.

In proposing these Ten Words, YHWH is trying to enter into a mutually beneficial and consensual relationship with Yisrael as His people.  While He is not trying to impose servitude, He is looking for a covenant.  And His desire is to covenant with a people who are both free and respect freedom in others.  He didn't want it made through a hostile takeover or any other forced business contract.  Instead, He wanted a freely entered into covenant that was more of a relationship.  In the ancient world, a covenant was like a business contract only MUCH more serious.  But YHWH isn't looking for just a business arrangement -- He is instead using the language of a covenant to establish a unique relationship with a people that He can build into His own nation.  That is why we must get more deeply into the WHY of these Ten Words.  We know what they represent now, that they are not called "Commandments" but "Words" or "Wise Sayings".  They are maxims by which a free environment can be made for a free people.  YHWH is not imposing servitude on the people He wants to take as His very own, because He is here seeking something more like a marriage arrangement than a business contract.  He's seeking a partner, not a partnership.  In Hebrew, this type of marriage convenant is called a "ketuvah"; YHWH was proposing a ketuvah with His people.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the Third Word and possibly gain a more in depth meaning than the one that surfaced in the first half of my analysis. The fact is that by missing this deeper significance of the Ten Words and especially of the intent behind them, both Christianity and Judaism have essentially, in their own way, attempted to "void" the great Name of YHWH and have thus attempted to do exactly what this important Third Word warns against.  Christians almost never use the name, preferring instead to translate it as "the LORD", or some other variant such as "the Eternal".  These are not really proper translations of the Name and cannot help but lose meaning in the process of translation.  The sad result is that many Christians don't even know the Name exists.  Judaism on the other hand has decided that the Name is so Qodesh ("holy") that it cannot ever be uttered, except by a Cohen HaGadol ("High Priest") in the context of the Temple once a year.  Hence, while they leave the name in place in the texts of the Torah and Tanach (Old Testament), they never utter it, and always replace it when reading with terms like "Adonai" (which essentially means "Master") or "HaShem" (which simply means "The Name").  Any cursory reading of the text of the Torah or the Tanach in Hebrew shows that such avoidance of the name as the ultimate honorific is completely unnecessary.  Righteous Malachim ("Kings") and Nabiim ("Prophets") and Cohenim ("Priests") and even regular layman citizens of Yisrael regularly and openly called YHWH by His Name, with no attempts at concealment.  Both of these approaches, the one taken by Christianity and the one taken by Judaism, have been themselves vain attempts to take the Name in vain, pun intended.  Both have tried to cover the Name up in a shroud, which in any other circumstance would be recognized clearly as an attempt to void His Great Name.  But Elohim's Name, YHWH, refuses to be covered up, and there are consequences to this -- consequences to your relationship with YHWH Himself.

Remember what I said before, YHWH seeks a relationship with His people.  He seeks something more akin to a marriage, not some business agreement.  YHWH is not merely "the Party of the First Part"... the relationship is intimate.  A man and wife know each other by their names, not by titles.  Even friends know each other by their names.  When you become intimately familiar with someone, you don't just discard their name as an unspeakable honorific, nor do you replace their name with a title and pretend their real name doesn't exist.  You might pick a nickname, but even with that, your goal is never to hide or obscure the actual name of your spouse or your friend.  However, on the other side of that coin, you use the name with some level of respect at all times, never intentionally misusing the name of your spouse or friend.  The name is a sign of familiarity and respect, not a tool for obstruction and misuse.  A husband who loves his wife does not go around to his friends and coworkers and malign her name — and likewise, faithful wives do not do such things to their husbands.  YHWH, I believe, wants something similar to this — He wants a people who will call Him by His Name and yet will never misuse it.  He wants an intimate relationship, not a distant partnership.  When Mosheh asked YHWH for His Name, YHWH told him that this name "YHWH" was His Name for all time, for all eternity.  Using and not misusing His Name is critical in my view to having a relationship with Him, while calling Him by His Name in respect and love only fosters that respect and love more over time, and that is, I believe, the true basis of the Third Word.  It should never be hid nor obscured, yet it should also never be misused nor maligned.  YHWH calls all of His people by name, and He expects for us to know Him by His Name.

The Second Word (Part Two) -- An Impassioned Relationship Requires Passion

To further this point of the intent behind the delivery of the Ten Words, that they are intended to be the foundation of a much more potent relationship than a mere ancient covenant would normally convey, I also need to elaborate on the Second Word more fully.  Earlier, I glossed over the latter more controversial half of the Second Word and its seemingly apparent negativity.  I chose to do that because I wanted first to concentrate on the overall point I was making about the purpose of these "Ten Words" as something other than simply "commandments.”  Now that I’ve done this, and now that I've introduced the intent of the Ten Words as a basis for a relationship He was proposing with a free people, I think I am ready to expound further.

YHWH goes on in this part of the Second Word to say:

"... for I, YHWH, am an impassioned Elohim, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon their children to the third and fourth generations, yet showing mercy to the thousandth generation of those that love Me and keep My mitzvot (i.e. 'commandments')." (Shemot / Exodus 20:5-6)

Now to any English reader, and a great many Hebrew readers as well, this would certainly seem more negative than positive, and maybe even a statement of obligation rather than simply an expounding of ethical wisdom to avoid unnecessary obligations.  In fact, to our modern eyes, it might even seem that there is an implicit threat here.  There are two obvious wording issues, so let's go over each of them.

The first is YHWH's use of the word "mitzvot", which is the plural of the word "mitzvah", a word almost always translated in English Bibles as "commandment".  I feel this word has a much more important sense than simply a "commandment", though that meaning is there as well.  More importantly, I believe the term also takes on the meaning of "good deeds", "good works", or even "blessings", as in something you do that blesses yourself and others.  So once again I argue that YHWH doesn't frame these Ten Words as the basis of a new penal code -- but instead as maxims about doing good deeds that bring about good things, for you and for others, and about creating a society in which a free people can prosper and remain free.  I hope this is clear, and especially hope you can see why I strongly feel this does not detract from my point about the nature of these Ten Words as a code to avoid falling into another form of slavery after having been freed from a rather egregious form of slavery already.

The second more obvious objection is to the word that I chose to translate as "impassioned", and the subsequent text about punishing those who arouse that passion through disobedience.  The word in Hebrew is "kana", and is often translated as "jealous".  While I prefer "impassioned" as a translation, "jealous" is also correct, but because of the negativity usually associated with this term in English, this needs to be explained.  The reason I prefer to translate this as "impassioned" is that "jealous" in English has become something of a negative term that refers to its role as a motivation behind almost exclusively negative acts and deeds, and it has as a result become a very one-sided term representing an irrational emotion motivating the doing of harm to others.

"Jealous" hasn't always been a negatively-weighted term in English, but it has become too negatively weighted over the years to our modern ears and eyes to really convey the intent of the Hebrew term "kana".  "Jealousy" in its more complete and historic sense in English is not just a negative emotion or motivation -- it is an emotion born of love in consensual relationships that are seen as not only financial investments but life investments, and that "jealousy" is the motivation for good works as much as it is an emotion born of irrational feelings which motivates malignant acts.  Perfectly happily married couples are jealous of each other's affections and yet do not create situations in which these natural emotions become destructive.  Of course a healthy relationship is one in which the partners’ mutual trust keeps the negative aspects of their jealousy at bay.  This does not, however, mean that there isn't "jealousy", it just means that the negative aspects of this jealousy are held in check by the partners' trust of each other not to inappropriately share their special, more exclusively shared affection with others.

In that sense, Elohim is seeking a relationship with his people here that is much more like a marriage -- He wants His people to be His partner, a trusted partner, and not to share their affections with other elohim ("gods").  The communication here is that this new covenant, for which the Ten Words forms a "proposal", is not a contract of bondage but one of affection, of love, most similar to a marriage covenant.  He is seeking a life investment here, not a business arrangement.

We don't describe a happily married couple as "slaves" to each other in any literal sense.  Even when spouses go above and beyond for each other, that is an expression of their healthy relationship and acts performed out of mutual affection and mutual benefit.  And that kind of love requires more than selflessness -- it requires a binding up together emotionally, or even a strong passion.  YHWH seeks something more like a “marriage" than like a strictly contractual obligation and that is the reason that YHWH chose to tell Yisrael that He was a "jealous" or "impassioned" Elohim.  He is telling Yisrael that when He loves, He loves passionately.  This is also why YHWH later expresses His feelings to disobedient Yisrael in terms of marriage and accusations of adultery via the nabiim (prophets).  YHWH calls His agreement that is with Yisrael ultimately a "brit" in Hebrew, or "covenant" in English, but the implication is again more than simply a business arrangement -- this is not about "work" or "business", it's about a relationship.  That is the intent of YHWH's statements here.  "Brit" is a term used also for marriage covenants, and He is promising here to to invest all of His love and emotion into the union He is proposing.  He expresses here that His love and His fury are both passionate -- He is an impassioned Elohim and His love for His people is passionate.

I've said many times now that the Ten Words form the basis of a "proposal" for the covenant, a marriage in a sense, between YHWH and His people.  That is essentially what YHWH was doing when He came down upon the mountain and spoke the Ten Words to Yisrael, and then wrote those same Words down in writing.  He had freed Yisrael for free, with no obligations.  But He proposed the covenant at Mt. Sinai to begin a real relationship with them, a relationship He wanted to be freely entered and freely enjoyed both both parties.  The people were so terrified by the awesome display of YHWH coming down upon the mountain, in a storm of fire and smoke, and speaking with an earth-shaking voice like the sound of a shofar, that they begged Mosheh (Moses) to be the mediator between them and YHWH for the covenant, and both YHWH and Mosheh agreed.  Mosheh had essentially taken the role that is often performed by clergy in a wedding ceremony, with YHWH as the Groom and Yisrael as the bride.  Once Mosheh delivered the rest of the Words to the people, they entered into covenant freely with YHWH:

"And Mosheh came down and told the people all of the Words of YHWH and all of his observances, and all the people answered with one voice and said 'All the Words which YHWH has spoken we will do!'" (Shemot / Exodus 24:3)

This was possibly the largest "I Do" in the history of marriage ceremonies.

Babel to Shavuot to Pentecost -- Coming Full Circle

Now that I've covered the Ten Words and their real meaning, as well as the intent of YHWH's dramatic delivery of those Words on Mt. Sinai, I'd like to talk about the event that occurred around 1500 years later, on the Shavuot that took place shortly after HaMashiach Yeshua's death in Yerushalayim.  We read this about this event here:

"And when the Day of Pentecost (i.e. Chag HaShavuot, the Festival of Weeks) had come, they were all with one mind in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from the shamayim, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the House (that house being the Heykal) where they were sitting. And there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and settled on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Ruach HaQodesh and began to speak with other tongues, as the Ruach gave them to speak. 

"Now in Yerushalayim there were dwelling Yahudim (Jews), dedicated men from every nation under the shamayim. And when this sound came to be, the crowd came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marveled, saying to each other, 'Look, are not all these who speak from Galil (Galileans)? 'And how do we hear, each one in our own language in which we were born? 'Parthians and Medes and Eylamites, and those dwelling in Aram Naharayim, both Yahudah and Kappadokia, Pontos and Asia, both Phrygia and Pamphulia, Mitsrayim and the parts of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Yahudim and converts, Cretans and Arabs, we hear them speaking in our own tongues the great deeds of Elohim.' 

"And they were all amazed, and were puzzled, saying to each other, 'What does this mean?' And others mocking said, 'They have been filled with sweet wine.'" (Ma'aseh / Acts 2:1-13)

At first it might not seem like there is any connection between the event of the Ten Words at Mt. Sinai on Shavuot and the event that took place on Shavuot (or "Pentecost" in Greek) circa 1500 years later.  But there are a few obvious connections here -- the Ruach HaQodesh ("Holy Spirit") is YHWH acting in power on human beings, in a form that is different than His actual form, which we as human beings cannot see or experience (yet).  Just as YHWH descended on Mt. Sinai in fire and smoke and wind, here a wind comes upon their location and tongues of fire descend upon the heads of Yeshua's talmidim ("disciples"), who were gathered together to observe Shavuot in Yerushalayim.  And just as Yisrael was gathered together before Mt. Sinai to meet with YHWH Elohim with YHWH Elohim speaking the Ten Words to them to propose His covenant, the nations of the world were gathered together to observe the remembrance of this event by observing Shavuot and YHWH spoke to them through the mouths of these talmidim in their own languages.  Many were amazed, and some were scoffing and calling them drunks, but Shimon Kepha ("Simon Peter") stood up and declared to them the real purpose of this event:

"Afterwards, Shimon Keefa (Simon Peter) stood up among the eleven Shlichim and lifted up his voice and said to them, 'Men, Yahudim (Jews), and all who dwell in Yerushalayim, let this be known to you, and pay attention to my words.  For it is not as you think, that these men are drunk, for look, it is now only the third hour of the day (about 9 a.m.).  But this is that which was spoken by the navi Yoel.'" (Ma'aseh / Acts 2:14-16)

Shimon then quotes the navi Yoel (Joel), a prophecy about just this kind of revelation.  Let's take a look at the actual prophecy directly from Sefer Yoel:

"And after this it will be that I pour out my Ruach on all flesh.  And your sons and daughters shall nava (prophesy), your old men dream dreams, your young men see visions.  And also on the male servants and on the female servants I will pour out my Ruach in those days.  And I will give signs in HaShamayim, and upon the earth: blood and fire and columns of smoke, the sun turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of YHWH.  And it will be that everyone who calls on the Name of YHWH will be saved." (Yoel 3:1-5 / Joel 2:28-32)

So this event connects quite well to Shavuot based on prophecies going way back.  In fact, one of the reasons why Shavuot is also called "Chag HaBikkurim" or "Festival of Firstfruits", is not only because the firstfruits were offered on it by Yisrael on pilgrimage in ancient times.  Rather, it is because Yisrael themselves were seen as firstfruits among the nations -- the beginning of Elohim's Kingdom.  And this event on Shavuot likewise is about firstfruits -- in this case, a new stage in the building of that Kingdom by gathering firstfruits not only from Yisrael but from the nations.

One must understand the context to know the fullness of this connection.  I won't have time to do the subject justice, and maybe another article is called for at some point, but let me attempt to show in context the fullness of the rehearsal that is our yearly observance of Shavuot.  At the Tower of Babel, mankind had essentially decided to cut YHWH Elohim out of the process of forming a civilization.  The event of taking the destiny of mankind into their own hands was an act of excluding YHWH Elohim from their organization.  It was essentially a "Declaration of Independence" against YHWH Elohim.  YHWH's response was to disinherit those nations.

In a very real sense, He chose to honor their request -- they weren't interested in being His people and He wasn't going to force their hand on the matter.  So He did indeed disinherit the nations, scattered them among the Earth, and scattered their language as well.  But He did not intend this disinheritance to be permanent.  As Dr. Michael Heiser notes in his book The Unseen Realm, it is no accident that shortly after this incident, YHWH chooses to ask a man living in the heart of Babel, a man named Abram, to become the basis of a new people, a people that YHWH would raise up for Himself.  That people ultimately was and is Yisrael.  And this event at Mt. Sinai sealed that purpose.

YHWH renamed Abram to Abraham when he willingly took YHWH up on his offer, signifying that he was now the father of YHWH's many nations, and his children of that covenant ultimately all followed suit hundreds of years later.  It was an arrangement entered into freely by a free people.  And YHWH's purpose in this partnership was not just for Yisrael alone, but to use Yisrael as a vehicle to bring the rest of the nations into His Covenant.  So when Sefer Maasim (Book of Acts) in the New Testament shows a similar event that hearkens back to both of these occurances, and that event occurs again on Shavuot ("Pentecost") on the year of Mashiach Yeshua's death and resurrection, and only ten days after his ascension to HaShamayim ("heaven"), the connections are obvious.  YHWH came down on Mt. Sinai circa 1500 years earlier, in fire and smoke and wind, and spoke the Ten Words by His Own Mouth, and now YHWH comes once again down onto the talmidim (Disciples) of Mashiach Yeshua, with wind through the Temple and in fiery "tongues" landing on the heads of each talmid, all speaking His Words as directed by His Ruach HaQodesh ("Holy Spirit").  The parallels are obvious.  And YHWH's performance of this by having the Talmidim speak in the language of everyone present is clearly a sign of the reversal of the "confusion" and the disinheritance of the nations introduced at Babel.  It all came full circle.  That is what THIS day represents.

In my view, whatever you call it -- whether "Shavuot", "Pentecost", "Bikkurim", "Firstfruits", or even "Atzeret", the Festival that the Torah calls Chag HaShavuot is an important and wonderful observance that calls back to the time when, having freed Yisrael from bondage, YHWH taught Yisrael how to continue to be free.  Further, it marks when He began an ongoing relationship with not only Yisrael then but with all people who chose to enter into that same relationship in the future.  As Mosheh stated when He renewed the covenant between YHWH and Yisrael forty years later, before He brought them into the Land of Promise:

"... so that He may establish you as His People, and He may be your Elohim as He swore on  oath to Abraham, Yitshaq (Isaac) and Yaakov (Jacob), I am making this covenant and oath with not only you, but with you who stand before YHWH today, and with those who are not here today..." (Debarim / Deuteronomy 29:13-14)

And as Kepha quoted from Yoel more than a thousand years later:

"Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  On my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Ruach in those days, and they will prophesy. ...  And everyone who calls on the name of the YHWH will be saved." (Maasim / Acts 2:17-18, 21)

That covenant is and always has been for all of those willing to enter it.  Yeshua HaMashiach came to renew this covenant, and the first fruition of this renewal occurred on this same Shavuot circa 1500 years after the original delivery on Mt. Sinai.  Yeshua’s Talmidim gathered at the Temple on Shavuot, and there YHWH poured His Ruach HaQodesh (“Holy Spirit”) upon them, as reported in Sefer HaMaasim ("Acts").  The disinheritance of the nations had begun, and is still on-going now.  Someday it will come to full fruition, when Yeshua returns under the proclamation that Yeshua's talmid Yochanan ("John") saw:

"The Kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdoms of YHWH and of His Mashiach, and He will reign forever and ever." (HitGalut / Revalation 11:15)

The Ten Words were then and are now intended to keep us out of  "avadim", i.e. bondage rather than the often posited notion that these "Ten Commandments" were themselves a form of bondage from which "Christ" has freed us.  Elohim delivered these Ten Words to Yisrael because He clearly had a purpose that transcends and even contradicts the familiar Christian notion that the Torah itself, for which these Ten Words provided a clear foundation, was delivered for the sake of a new form of contractual bondage from which Christians are supposedly freed at the cross.   YHWH and His Mashiach leads us to these Words of liberty, not away from them.  The door has been opened to this full relationship with YHWH Elohim and to liberty itself, and that is what this day celebrates.

No comments :

Post a Comment