The Ten Commandments for Jews, Christians, and Others

By Roger E. Van Harn | Go to book overview

THE FIRST WORD
The Face of Ethical Encounter

James A. Diamond

I am the LORD your God … you shall have no other gods before me.

The first of the Ten Commandments (or more appropriately the “ten utterances,” translated by the Septuagint Greek as deka logoi) 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” (Exod. 20:2-3; Deut. 5:6-7). One is immediately struck by what does not really amount to much of a commandment but appears to be more in the nature of an introduction, a legislative preamble, a greeting. Despite variant rabbinic traditions as to whether “I am God …” and “You shall have no other gods” are to be counted as two separate commandments, by all accounts the ten commence with “I am God,” which either stands alone or forms an integral component of the first.1

It assumes an encounter with a power, among others, that must identify itself and establish its credentials in order to command authority and inspire obedience. There is a relational history between this power and the Israelites it addresses, marked by a collective memory of an event unique to this addressee’s heritage. It is an “I” that recalls a deliverance that would radically reorient the direction in which this people were headed and reignite a national vitality thought irrecoverable after generations of brutal repression under the ancient Egyptians. Since the Israelites had been a nation enslaved by another, God’s identity as the promulgator of the Ten

1. See Mordechai Breuer, “Dividing the Decalogue into Verses and Commandments,” in The Ten Commandments in History and Tradition, ed. B. Z. Segal and G. Levi (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1990), pp. 291-330.

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The Ten Commandments for Jews, Christians, and Others
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Foreword viii
  • Preface xi
  • The Ten Words - Exodus 20:2-17 (New Revised Standard Version) 1
  • The First Word - The Face of Ethical Encounter 3
  • Response 16
  • The Second Word - No Other Gods 23
  • Response 40
  • The Third Word - The Blessing of God’s Name 47
  • Response 62
  • The Fourth Word - The Sabbath Day 69
  • Response 80
  • The Fifth Word - Honoring Parents 87
  • Response 100
  • The Sixth Word - What Have You Done? 113
  • Response 127
  • Response 132
  • The Seventh Word - Sexuality and Marriage 135
  • Response 148
  • The Eighth Word - Calvin and the "Stewardship of Love" 157
  • Response 175
  • The Ninth Word - Bearing True Witness 179
  • Response 194
  • The Tenth Word - God or Mammon 199
  • Response 212
  • Afterword 218
  • Contributors 221
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