Don’t Covet Your Neighbor’s…?

phillipe-de-champaigne-moses-with-the-ten-commandments

Having last looked at the two versions of “keeping the Sabbath,” now I want to turn our attention to the tenth commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Covet Your Neighbor’s….” which will seque into my next post.

Two Purposes of the Ten Commandments

As I’ve mentioned before, Block says that the Decalogue has a two-fold purpose:

(1) to provide the Israelites with a clear understanding of YHWH’s view of the appropriate response to salvation; and (2) to instill in the redeemed a respect for God and other members of the community. And herein we discover the Mosaic understanding of ‘love’: total commitment to the well-being of others, whether God or one’s fellow being, demonstrated in acts that seek the well-being of the next person — rather than self-interest (146-147).

The Tenth Commandment

Exodus 20.17

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

Deuteronomy 5.21

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

Where’s the Beef?

A few questions you might ask after reading these might be, “Why isn’t ‘wife’ first in the Exodus command?” or “So it’s okay that the man owns everyone, even his wife? Even his servants?” or “Is this difference really that important?”

Exodus

Block says that there are actually two commands in the Hebrew. Here in the Exodus version one is not to covet “the house of your neighbor” and one should also not covet “a catalogue of items claimed by own’s neighbor: his wife, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, and his donkey, and ending with a catch-all expression, ‘anything that belongs to your neighbor’” (154).

As a result, these commands “distinguish coveting the neighbor’s real property (the house) from coveting the human beings who make up the economic unity, the household” (155).

Deuteronomy

In Deuteronomy, Israel (though really this is pointed to the men who are the head of their houses) is commanded not to covet, first and foremost, their neighbor’s wife. Now, the command not to covet “‘[y]our neighbor’s house’ is dropped down to the second command” (155). Now house is paired with field, male with female servant, and ox with horse.

But why would Moses switch these two words? Moses, being the pastor he is, wants to “ensure the elevated status of the wife in a family unit and to foreclose any temptation to use the Exodus version of the command to justify men’s treatment of their wives as if they were mere property, along with the rest of the household possessions” (156).

Egypt, the House of Slavery

Ending the Ten Commandments with this command might actually create a frame that reminds the Israelites of the freedom they have in worshiping YHWH. Switching the places of “wife” and “house” does not mean that they represent “the interchangeability of women with other items of property” (156). Block notes,

The opening preamble [Deut. 5.6] portrays the land of Egypt as [a] “house of slavery”… from which YHWH had rescued Israel. The last command refers to the home by the same term; this is the male head of the household’s domain, in which his style of leadership may be just as oppressive as the bondage under Pharaoh. Indeed, the Old Testament narratives are rife with accounts of abusive men who treat women as property that may be disposed of at will for the sake of male honor and male ego (156).

Cultural Glasses?

But could it be that Block is reading this commandment through 21st century gender-equality glasses? Would the Israelites really see Moses raising the status of all wives simply because “wife” is placed as the first object which is not to be coveted in the command? Though it is possible Block is wearing “women-first” glasses, I’m not so sure. Block reinforces his interpretation by saying, 

[Moses] reinforces this distinction [between wife and property] by reserving the verb [covet] for the illicit lust of a man toward another man’s wife and substituting it with [desire] when speaking of the desire a man might have for another man’s household property…. In Sivan’s words, the Deuteronomic version ‘elevates women as the most desirable objects of coveting. It also implies that covert coveting of other women’s wives is more pervasive and more complex than the rest of the listed inventory’ (157).

We just have to think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5.27-28,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Lagniappe

Posts about Slavery

Outline

Concluding Thoughts on the Fifth Commandment

Last time I summarized the meaning in of the fifth commandment in each of its contexts (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). Now I’ll answer the question, “On which reason was Israel supposed to keep the Sabbath? Because God rested on the seventh day? Or because God brought Israel out of Egypt?”

The Answer

In his essay “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” in The Gospel According to Moses, Daniel Block gives a few pointers on how we should view Moses’ transformation of the fifth commandment in Deuteronomy 5.

  • Moses acknowledges that beyond patterning human creative work after that of God the Creator of heaven and earth, the Sabbath is a gift, offering all who toil an opportunity to refresh themselves…
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  • Instead of calling on Israelites to remember the Sabbath, Moses calls on them to treasure the Sabbath by recalling their time in Egypt, when they labored for brutal taskmasters, without Sabbath or relief.
    • In addition to observing the seventh-day Sabbath by celebrating God’s work in the creation of the cosmos, the Israelites were to use it to celebrate YHWH’s special creative work in rescuing them from bondage with his strong hand and outstretched arm.

Creation Accounts

In Deuteronomy, Moses is a pastor. He has been for the entire journey. Since he knows he will soon die and his time with Israel will soon be over, he gives them a last call to follow YHWH. Both Sabbath commands are rooted in creation. In Exodus 20 we have the creation of the world, and in Deuteronomy 5 we have the creation of Israel.

In Genesis 1-2 God created a people who were supposed to live eternally in his presence. They were to be fruitful and multiply, expanding the garden to the ends of the earth so that the earth would “be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2.14). Adam was to work and keep the garden (Gen 2.15; Num 13.21).

But Adam and Eve failed. Then God graciously rescued the Hebrews out of Egypt, and He created a new people. He made them to be a kingdom of priests (Exod 19.4-6). Later the priests in Numbers were to guard their priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and… serve (Num 8.7). The priesthood was given as a gift from God. In Deuteronomy the nation of Israel itself was to “walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice,” and they would serve him and hold fast to him” (Deut 13.4).

Just as in the creation story with Adam and Eve, now Israel has been created as a new people for God, and they are given the same kind of tasks as Adam and Eve. As God’s people they are to serve God, obey his word, and be a light among the nations.

But… the Animals

Moses adds a few comments on animals and servants in the Deuteronomy command (5.14). Block says,

“It is not difficult to imagine that in ancient Israel the male householder might have been tempted to have his animals and hired hands continue working on the Sabbath even as he and his immediate family personally and smugly observed this ordinance. But this philanthropic sensitivity is not to be restricted to one’s family or even fellow Israelites. All who live within the towns and villages of Israel — animal and human — are to be granted one day in seven as a day for rest and recuperation” (153).

“On which reason was Israel supposed to keep the Sabbath? Because God rested on the seventh day? Or because God brought Israel out of Egypt?”

Both. In both instances we have a creation account. In both instances we have the creation of a new people who are to serve God and expand his kingdom to the rest of the world. In both instances there is an invitation to ascend the mountain of the Lord (Ps 15.1; 24.3; Exod 19.20).

Outline

Keeping the Sabbath: Because of Creation or Salvation?

In my last post in this series I showed the problem many have when it comes to the Ten Commandments: which ones did Israel follow? Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 give us the Ten Commandments. While most commandments remain the same, commandments 5 and 10 have some differences (with the basis for keeping the Sabbath being very different). In The Gospel According to Moses, Daniel Block gives his own answer to this “problem.” Though it is quite the academic book, with each chapter being a different article written by Block, there is still plenty from it that can be understood, and I hope to show you some of that in the coming posts. 

Here I’ll repeat both fifth commandments, summarize the meaning in its context, and say how I don’t see a problem here.

Two Purposes of the Ten Commandments

Block says that the Decalogue has a two-fold purpose:

(1) to provide the Israelites with a clear understanding of YHWH’s view of the appropriate response to salvation; and

(2) to instill in the redeemed a respect for God and other members of the community.

And herein we discover the Mosaic understanding of ‘love’: total commitment to the well-being of others, whether God or one’s fellow being, demonstrated in acts that seek the well-being of the next person — rather than self-interest (146-147).

The Fifth Commandment

Exodus 20.8-11

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Block notes that the “Exodus version of the Decalogue treats the Sabbath ordinance as a divine right to the Israelites’ time/life” (146, fn. 27). Here the God gives Israel the gift of rest. Just as YHWH created the heavens and earth in six days and rested on the seventh, so Israel shall work six days and rest on the seventh. And the heads of household are supposed to present this gift to all those who live in their household too.

Deuteronomy 5.12-15

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 the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.
And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

Block says the “members of the household have the right to humane treatment from the head [of household]” (146). As in Exodus 20, Israel was to work six days and rest on the seventh. Here, we need to remember that Moses is speaking to a new generation of Israelites. Most of those who came out of the Exodus, even though they saw the “mighty hand of YHWH,” rebelled against him by denying his promise to be with them as they entered into the Promised Land (Num 13.20-23). This new generation was to never forget how they as a people were rescued from back-breaking slavery in Egypt and brought into the land God had promised Abraham. They were once slaves, but now they were a kingdom of priests (Exod 19.4-6).

Conclusion

But how do these two ideas mesh together? As a commenter on the Holeybooks blog pointed out, the two accounts don’t mesh together.

Here, we have the reason why the Lord God ‘commanded’ them to observe the sabbath.

Exo 20:11 – because God rested on the seventh day, He blessed it.

Deu 12:15 – because God brought them out of Egypt, He commanded them to observe the Sabbath.

So on which reason was Israel supposed to keep the Sabbath? Because God rested on the seventh day? Or because God brought Israel out of Egypt?

I’ve laid out just enough facts to make you go, “Hmmmmm….” My concluding thoughts will be found in my next post.

Outline

The Twenty Commandments?

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_079

If you grew up in church like I did, you probably memorized (or at least you were supposed to memorize) the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20. I don’t remember much of what I was taught from those years (considering this was twenty years ago) beyond flannel graphs, sticky stars, and songs by a large donut and a (p)salty book. What I do remember was that in all of the pictures I saw, the Ten Commandments were pretty short.

HeartofTenCommandments

Regardless of what I did (or didn’t) remember, three things are wrong with this picture.

  1. The full list of Ten Commandments were actually written on both slates of stone.

    • Each stone represented each parties regulations, one for Israel, one for Yahweh. As long as Israel trusted in Yahweh (by faith) obeyed the commandments (out of love), Yahweh would fulfill his duties as their God, their Provider and Protector.

      • This is actually why Moses smashes the tablets in Exodus 32.19. That Israel had turned against Yahweh meant the brand spankin’ new covenant was broken. That they so quickly rebelled is what angered Moses.
      • By breaking the two tablets of stone, Moses presented Israel with a physical parable: their sin smashed the covenant.
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  2. About half of the commandments are much longer than in this picture, specifically #2, 4, 5, and 10.
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  3. The Ten Commandments are actually spelled out twice in the Bible: once in Exodus 20 and the other in Deuteronomy 5. However, as you’ll see in the picture below there are some significant differences between the two sets of commandments, specifically in commandments 5, 6, and 10, but mainly numbers 5 and 10.
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    (Click the picture to enlarge it)

10 Commandments

Is This a Problem?

As many will say, this is a problem. As the blogger Holeybooks says after commenting on the two accounts of the Ten Commandments, “Needless to say, it is quite odd that the Bible itself, if it is putatively a consistent work, would have two different versions.”

Christians are usually given only three options:

  1. “[T]he Pentateuch has involved two or more sources being combined into a single narrative” and apparently nobody bothered to smooth out the variations (Holeybooks). The same argument is put forth regarding the creation account in Genesis 1-2 and the flood story in Genesis 7 (again, I don’t agree with the conclusions found on that blog).
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  2. The biblical editors got something wrong (really, this could be combined with both Opt. 1 and/or 2).
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  3. Moses botched up God’s words. And God’s probably wrong too. And, while we’re at it, the Bible can’t be trusted either.

Other “problems” can be read about here, here, and here.

Conclusion

I propose a fourth option: I don’t think there is a problem between the two commandments. Again, a commenter on Holeybooks laid out the problem between the Sabbath commandments:

Here, we have the reason why the Lord God ‘commanded’ them to observe the sabbath.

Exo 20:11 – because God rested on the seventh day, He blessed it.

Deu 12:15 – because God brought them out of Egypt, He commanded them to observe the Sabbath” (quoted verbatim). 

So according to which reason was Israel supposed to keep the Sabbath? Because God rested on the seventh day? Or because God brought Israel out of Egypt?

In his book The Gospel According to Moses, Daniel Block takes issue with this theory. People can take the Bible and twist it into whatever they want it to say. Without the proper information, this puts many Christians in a tight spot. We believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, but yet we don’t know why these two accounts differ. Maybe one of these accounts really is wrong?

As I stated before, I think the problems here can be countered with a proper understanding both of who Moses was and of the situation he and Israel were in. I’ll give my thoughts on Commandments #5 (Keeping the Sabbath) and #10 (Don’t Covet) in a series of posts. And, since many of the biblical laws are so far removed from our culture today (which was influenced by Christian values), the final post will look at a few laws in Deuteronomy and how they were given to benefit and raise the status of women in Israel.

Outline