What’s in a name? Well, it turns out that the answer to that question is “a whole lot.” Names can be venerated and names can be tarnished. They can follow someone around, and they can come to symbolize character and personality. Names matter. Especially the Name of God.
As Dr. Peterson mentioned last week, we will be working through the 10 Commandments, or 10 Words, this semester in chapel. He introduced the topic last week, and it is now my task to begin with the first commandment. The initial challenge we face, though, is where exactly the first commandment or word starts and ends. You may have noticed this already, but they are not numbered for us. Later in Exodus and Deuteronomy, the writers refer back to these “10 Words” or Decalogue (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13; 10:4), but they don’t enumerate them for us. Depending on which of at least three different numbering systems you choose, you could come up with 13 words. But, since the text says there are ten, and “Triskaidecalogue” just doesn’t sound right anyway, we’ll stick with ten. But, again, which ten? And what are the parameters of the first?
The Nash Papyrus, dated to the 2nd century BC, includes an early version of the Ten Words. (Wikimedia Commons considers this photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional work of art to be in the public domain in the United States.)
(Adapted from a homily presented in AGST chapel, 29 January 2018.)
And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. He said:
“ ‘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.
“ ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“ ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
“ ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
“ ‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
“ ‘You shall not murder.
“ ‘And you shall not commit adultery.
“ ‘And you shall not steal.
“ ‘And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
“ ‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’
“These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.
— Deutoronomy 5:1–22 ESV
In our chapel services this semester, we are invited to stand with the children of Israel and hear afresh the Ten Words that God spoke to his people from the mountain. The first time these Ten Commandments are enumerated in Scripture, in Exodus, chapter 20, it’s quite a production. The people of God stand before a great mountain, covered in thick cloud, out of which issue bolts of lightning and peals of thunder, and on which the LORD descends in smoke and fire. These sorts of things tend to concentrate the attention. And out of the fire the LORD speaks these Ten Words in the hearing of all Israel. It’s a lesson, I think we’d agree, you’re not likely to forget.