A Different Perspective on the Decalogue

deutI’m currently in process of studying the Decalogue in Deuteronomy 5 as part of my PhD studies – particularly thinking about its social, ethical, and missional function as a sort of ‘bill of rights’ for a newly constituted people about to possess a land. Most of the commentators pick up the idea that the Decalogue is a reflection of God’s character, but it was Chris Wright’s excellent commentary which showed me something I hadn’t seen before.

Wright notes that the Sabbath commandment is linked to the memory of their slavery in Egypt and suggests that to some degree the whole Decalogue reflects a way of life that is the antithesis of their slavery in Egypt. As slaves in Egypt they weren’t permitted to worship YHWH ( command 1); they were surrounded by idols (2); YHWH’s name was blasphemed, at least by Pharaoh (3); as slaves they weren’t given time to rest and remember (4); elders weren’t honoured (5); mass murder (infanticide) was committed (6); slaves were probably abused by masters (7); they didn’t have their own property as slaves (8); they weren’t protected by law (9); they probably had possessions forcibly taken at the whim of cruel masters (10).

The whole system in Egypt ignored the true God and mistreated people. God’s will expressed in the Decalogue is for a contrast society which worships the only true God, and protects people. It’s a way of life starkly different to the one they left in Egypt. Interesting observations from Wright, no?

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