Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why I have gotten the O.T. wrong... part IV

I spent the weekend trying to clean/rearrange the office in our apartment so blogging wasn't happening. But I now have it down to just a few papers on the floor that I need to go through and vaccuuming, so almost there. I think it's time to begin the Ten Commandments. In the Ancient Near East (ANE) they were also known as the Ten Words. Another thing to note is that the first four deal with our relationship to God and the last six deal with our relationship to each other. One more thing to note is that after each of the first four commandments there is an explanation following it, but not aftert the last six. This is because the last six were nothing new to the ANE Israelites. All six could be found in various other law codes surrounding them and so no explanation was needed... they understood the purpose already. But the first four were new so God provided them with an explanation as to why they were important and what they're purpose was. For example, the First Commandment reads, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me" (ESV). Here God is saying that the reason the Israelites should have no other gods before Him is because they had nothing to do with the Exodus. It was Yahweh and Him alone that delivered them. Now the question of this commandment is what does the word before mean? This word could also be translated as besides; but the idea that is being presented to the Israelites is spacial. You see, I always thought that the first Commandment was demanding monotheism (that the Israelites were to only believe in one god), but this isn't what it is saying. As I said before, the idea being presented is spacial... "You shall have no other gods before me" means that the Israelites were not to imagine any other gods in the presence of Yahweh. Just like when a convict goes into a courtroom and comes before the judge.

It is thought that the early Israelites were Henotheistic, which means that they believed in many gods, but only worshipped one, and later became monotheistic. Gods in the ANE were seen in a Pantheon, or theistic hierarchy. (Kind of like the President and his cabinet.) And so you had all these gods placed in this hierarchy with each one having there own power and control of certain things. This is why there was a "moon god" and a "sun god" and a "rain god" and so forth; a Pantheon suggests a distribution of power. What God was communicating to the ANE Israelites that were at least familiar with this mindset if not believers in it themselves was that He is omnipotent, or all-powerful. He is saying that He is the only God worthy of worship, not that He is the only god, although He does say this later on (see. Dt. 4:35, 39; Is. 43:10). So, in conclusion, the first Commandment does not say that no other gods exist, but that they are powerless... therefore leaving them with no status worthy of worship. Next we will look at the second Commandment... which I also misunderstood.