Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The NINE Commandments

In a remarkable fashion, the Bible records a violation of nine of the Ten Commandments in turn, after which ancient Israel is taken into captivity. It shows God gave the nation nine chances, they blew it nine times, and ended up in exile. Of course the Bible records many instances of commandment breaking, but these nine have special significance. They have national consequences. This is the basis of the book The Nine Commandments [1] by David Noel Freedman. Critics don't all agree with Freedman, I'll first present Freedman's idea, then I'll give some space for the critics - you can decide whether it has merit or not.

People don't agree on the numbering of the Ten. I will give the short form of each as we come to it. I like the King James for the Commandments because it uses Thou which is second person singular - 10 Commandments [2]

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Why National Consequences?

Twelve Tribes of
Ancient Israel

God spoke the TEN commandments to the people from Mount Sinai - Ex 20. The Ten Commandments are more than a moral code to rule a people, they are a covenant between God and ancient Israel. "And he wrote on the tablets
the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments." - Ex 34:28. The covenant includes text from chapters 20 - 24 of Exodus, where chapter 20 lists the Ten Commandments, the only part spoken by God Himself from Mount Sinai. This was the first time God made a covenant with a nation. Before this, he had made covenants with individuals, like Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But now He made a nation of Jacob's descendants, and He made a covenant with them. The children of Israel had to obey the voice of God, in return, God promised them this:

Ex 19:5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'

Israel agreed.

Ex 24:3 Then Moses came and reported to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!”

Commandments 1 And 2

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make any graven image or bow down to them.

After the people promised to obey the Ten Commandments, Moses went up the mountain to receive the two tablets from God. He was gone for 40 days, and when he came down, the people had managed to violate Commandments 1 and 2 in the golden calf incident. Here is how God describes their actions to Moses:

Exodus 32:8 How quickly they have turned aside from the way that I commanded them! They have made for themselves a molten calf and have bowed down to it. They have sacrificed to it and said, 'These, O Israel, are your gods, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.'"

Note how this language parallels the commandment.

Exodus 20:3 AFV You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 You shall not make for yourselves any graven image, ... 5 You shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them;

The consequence for this was severe. God threatened to wipe them all out and start over with Moses, though that was probably a test for Moses. A very real consequence was the death of 3000 men.

Exo 32:28 And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.

Quoting Freedman

With the violation of commandments one and two, Israel has begun its downward trek, a trek that will take them through each commandment, one by one, book by book, until all are broken, resulting in their exile from the Promised Land. p 45

Book two – Commandments one and two.

Commandment Three

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.

Leviticus is known for laws, not for narrative. But there is one story in Leviticus that seems to be out of place. It is the episode of blasphemy. The first half of chapter 24 talks about items in the Tabernacle, and then the text jumps to a story of two men fighting where one of them curses God's name (literally made light of THE NAME), then chapter 24 continues with more laws.

The offender, who is not even named in the story, is jailed, brought to Moses, who appeals to God, who sentences him to death by stoning by the congregation. This sets a legal precedent for Israel. What began as an altercation between two men became the business of the whole nation. The whole congregation participated in the stoning to purge Israel of its guilt. It also shows that the Law applies to the native Israelite and the non-native.

Book three - Commandment three.

Commandment Four

Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy.

Gathering sticks
We saw that the story of breaking of Commandment three seems out of place in Leviticus. We see a similar story that seems out of place in Numbers. While Numbers has more narrative passages than Leviticus, note Numbers chapter 15 - various laws are given concerning Sacrifices, Unintentional Sins, and Tassels on Garments. But in the middle of these laws is a short story of a man who violated the Sabbath by picking up sticks (vs 32-36). Our attention is drawn to it by being placed there and by the parallels with the Leviticus story - the offender is not named, he is jailed, brought to Moses, and God sentenced him to death by stoning. And like the blasphemy story, the punishment was not specified beforehand. The people found him gathering sticks (vs 32), so it was no longer just about him alone, it became the business of the whole nation.

Book four - Commandment four.

Commandment Five

Honor thy father and thy mother.

In Deuteronomy 21, Moses is giving various laws to the people. Verses 18-21 describes what to do with a “stubborn and rebellious son”. The passage reads like a legal proceeding.

  • The guilty party is seized by witnesses
  • The guilty party is brought to a judging body
  • The crime is communicated
  • The guilty party is stoned
  • Evil is purged

Sound familiar? It's Leviticus 24 and Numbers 15 all over again. “Nowhere else in Deuteronomy do we find all of these elements together.” [1] Here are some things to note. Both parents bring their son to the elders of the city for judgment. They must testify that he is stubborn and rebellious despite discipline. And that led to unacceptable behavior, namely disobedience, gluttony, and drunkenness.

This passage might be included because like blasphemy and Sabbath breaking, the penalty for not honoring parents was never given before. But the thing is, there is no case recorded anywhere that this process was ever done. I don't think it means there was never a son in ancient Israel that was stubborn and rebellious. It means that no parents could bring themselves to do it. I never had kids, but I can't imagine doing it. Now bringing someone else's kid to the city elders...

It might be that if stubborn and rebellious sons were brought to justice by their own parents, things would have turned out better for Israel, that is the people would hear and fear. It is remarkable that Jesus became sin for us, and God the Father was willing to put Him to death.

Book five - Commandment five.


This is the end of the Torah, the five books of Moses. Now we move into the section known as the Prophets. In the Hebrew Bible, the first four books in this section are Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Note that Samuel and Kings are not split in two. And note that Ruth is not here. The Torah plus these four books is sometimes called the Primary History (of Israel).

The question is whether the pattern of commandment violation book by book continues after the Torah. The answer is yes and no. We still see one violation per book, but the order is changed a little. From the pattern so far, we would expect to see a murder in book six (Joshua), but in fact stealing is the next commandment violated. Freedman argues that if we follow the order of Jeremiah 7, the book/commandment correspondence stays aligned.

Jer 7:9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, offer sacrifices to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known,

One way or another, we will get back in sync before we're done.

Commandment Eight

Thou shalt not steal

After 40 years in the wilderness, Israel begins to conquer the Promised Land, beginning with a memorable victory over Jericho (Josh 6), which gave the Israelites great confidence that God will grant them continuous victories. But the next time out (Josh 7), they got defeated, so Joshua asks God why. The reason is because a man named Achan stole some gold and silver that was forbidden. God reserved the gold and silver spoils from Jericho for the Tabernacle. Ultimately, Achan was found out, and although he confessed (Josh 7:20-21), he was sentenced to death. It was so serious that his family was put to death as well. Normally, the penalty for stealing was to repay what was stolen, in some cases to pay five times over. This is the only instance of the death penalty for stealing [1]. But this was stealing from God, and it affected the whole nation. It is also the only case of anyone stealing from the forbidden spoils [1]. How can we know it is THE Commandment violation for the book of Joshua? Achan's crime is the only sin by an Israelite in the book [1].

We see that the Lord held the whole camp of Israel accountable for the act of one man and withheld His blessing until the matter was corrected - Sin of Achan [3].

Josh 6:18 GNT But you are not to take anything that is to be destroyed; if you do, you will bring trouble and destruction on the Israelite camp. 19 Everything made of silver, gold, bronze, or iron is set apart for the LORD. It is to be put in the LORD's treasury.

Josh 7:1 ASV But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the devoted thing; for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the devoted thing: and the anger of Jehovah was kindled against the children of Israel.

Listen to the language used to describe the incident.

Josh 7:11 HOLMAN Israel has sinned. They have violated My covenant that I appointed for them. They have taken some of what was set apart. They have stolen, deceived, and put the things with their own belongings.

Jos 7:21 When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I COVETED them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.

Book six - Commandment eight.

Commandment Six

Thou shalt not murder.

Murdered Concubine
I find the last three chapters of Judges (19-21) difficult to read. The story starts out with parallels to Lot in Sodom, and like Sodom ends VERY badly. The concubine of a Levite is raped to death in Gibeah, a town of the tribe of Benjamin. The Levite sends pieces of her body to every tribe, and they respond in force against Benjamin. When Benjamin refuses to turn over the perpetrators, civil war breaks out. Israel kills nearly all the men of Benjamin.

If you read this in the KJV, you won't see that this is a case of murder.

Judg 20:4 KJV And the Levite, the husband of the woman that was slain

In nearly all other translations, it reads “the woman who was murdered'. It does not say “the woman who died”, or “the woman who was killed”, but “the woman who was murdered”. In fact, this is the first story since Sinai to use the Hebrew word ratsach as found in the Commandment. Ratsach is a legal term like the English homicide.

The community is required to see that the commands are enforced and violations are punished. If the individual is not held accountable for his or her crime, the entire community becomes guilty - [1 p117].

Book seven - Commandment six.

Commandment Seven

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

There is only one case of adultery in the Hebrew Bible where the crime, the participants, and the events surrounding it are all made explicit. It is also one of the most famous cases of adultery in all literature - [1 p130].

Nathan Confronts David

This is referring to King David and Bathsheba. Since it is so well known, I won't need to rehearse any of it here, just a couple remarks. When confronted by Nathan the Prophet, David confesses like Achan. But unlike Achan, David (and Bathsheba) are not put to death, which is the penalty in Lev 20:10. He does not escape justice though. David's crime of adultery is the turning point in his reign.

2 Sam 12:10 Now then, the sword shall never leave your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’
11 This is what the LORD says: ‘Behold, I am going to raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight.

It may be a coincidence, but now that Israel is a monarchy, these last two violations are done by royalty. One near the beginning of the kingdom, one near the end.

Book eight - Commandment seven.

Commandment Nine

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

With Commandment Nine, we get back in sync.

Not bear false witness. This is carefully worded because it is a legal term. The Bible condemns lying in many passages, but this commandment is not a simple injunction against lying in general. It is specific. We might say “Thou shalt not perjure against thy neighbor”.

All false witnessing is a lie, but not all lies are false witnesses Hermeneutics(Lying Tongue) [4]

False witnessing attempts to pervert the course of justice.

Bearing false witness, on the other hand, is a lie with intent to inflict damage on another innocent party Frontiersman(False Witness) [5].

In fact, according to Jewish teaching, lying is permitted to deceive the enemy or to save life - Wikipedia(Jewish view on lying) [6]

Ahab Asks Naboth
The violation of the ninth commandment is also a well known story. It is the dispute between King Ahab and Naboth (1 K 21). Ahab covets Naboth's vineyard, but Naboth won't sell. Jezebel induces two false witnesses to testify against Naboth. But it wasn't any old charge against Naboth, they testified that he spoke against God and king, which carried a twofold penalty. Naboth was put to death with his family, and his property reverted to the monarchy, so Ahab got the vineyard he desired. BTW, Ahab and Naboth were actual neighbors.

It didn't end well for Ahab or Jezebel. Some of Ahab's punishment was postponed to his sons days because he humbled himself, but he met his end three years later in 1 K 22. Jezebel met her end in 2 K 9:30-37.

Book nine - Commandment nine.

The Tenth Commandment

Israel has broken the covenant commandment by commandment in order. The end result will be exile, about 100 years after Ahab, as told in the Primary history.

Why is there no tale devoted to the Tenth Commandment? One reason there is no story devoted to coveting is that it has no observable behavior, but it is evident in the violations of commandments six through nine that coveting was the motivation.

  • Achan coveted the gold and silver.

  • The Benjamites coveted (lusted after) sex.

  • David coveted (lusted after) Bathsheba.

  • Ahab coveted Naboth's vineyard.

Intent is important in modern justice and was important in ancient Israel, but only after a crime is committed. Attitude cannot be punished in the absence of a criminal action, Thought Police notwithstanding.

It's more than exile for Israel. By giving example violations of nine out of ten commandments, the Bible is drawing attention to the one left out. Sin starts in the mind, that's where the battle is. If you would not sin, don't covet. And not just commandments six through nine, consider Col 3.

Col 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

I would have never figured that out on my own.

  • Finally, I wonder if these violations are playing out in modern America. Have we not seen public examples of bearing false witness, stealing, adultery, and murder? God exiled Israel for breaking all the commandments of His covenant. Will He do any differently with America?

But, Is It So?

Let's turn our attention to Freedman's critics. They raise several objections to the main thesis that nine Commandments were violated in nine books, then God exiled Israel.

  • What about Genesis? Commandment One (no other gods before Me) is violated in the Garden of Eden, but Freedman doesn't start counting till Exodus when Commandments One and Two are violated. Why not start counting in Genesis?  The best explanation is that the count couldn't start till the covenant with the whole nation of Israel, which happened in Exodus 20.
"Special pleading", as is the placing of the first two violations in Exodus, with none in Genesis (none that he counts anyway; in reality there are many in Genesis). - Amazon review [7]
  • It really breaks the pattern that the Commandment violations don't follow the order in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. Dennis T. Olson sums it up this way.

Why would the master editor arrange these narratives in an alternative order of the commandments known only from an obscure reference in Jeremiah 7 (theft, murder, adultery)?  - - 2000 Year Secret [8]

  • I pointed out above that there isn't an actual violation of  Commandment 5 (Honor your parents). Every other violation is listed, and some quite heinous, so it's surprising this one is left out. Again it ruins the pattern. 

  • Is it true that "bearing false witness" is the last straw, after which exile is a certainty? First of all, it took over 100 years to go from Ahab and Naboth to exile, and over 100 more years till Judah was taken captive - that doesn't seem like a last straw. Second, if Ahab (northern kingdom) violated the ninth Commandment, why did Judah (southern kingdom) go into exile? Third, the prophets are clear about why God exiled Israel, it was due to idolatry. 2 Kings 17 talks about commandment breaking in general, but really focuses on idolatry as the core reason for exile.

2K 17:18 AFV So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of His sight; not one was left, only the tribe of Judah by itself.

  • In some of the example violations, other Commandments were broken, arguably more serious ones. For example, in the case of David's adultery, Nathan the prophet rebukes him first for killing Uriah.

2Sam 12:9 AFV Why have you despised the word of the LORD to do evil in His sight? You have stricken Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the children of Ammon. 

And in the case of Ahab and Naboth, bearing false witness seems a lesser crime than killing Naboth, stealing his land, or the idolatry of Ahab and Jezebel.

1K 16:31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and bowed down to him.

  • And one critic remarked that no one noticed this pattern for over 2000 years - [8]. To be fair, one point of scholarship is to find new things, even in text that is thousands of years old.
However, even Freedman's critics admit the idea is intriguing, and the book is a worthwhile read regardless. I encourage you to read the book, and make up your own mind.




Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make any graven image or bow down to them.
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy.
Honour thy father and thy mother.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Thou shalt not covet any thing that is thy neighbours.


Commandments 1 & 2 - Exodus 32
Commandment 3 - Lev 24:10-17
Commandment 4 - Numbers 15:32-36
Commandment 5 - Deuteronomy 21:18-21
Commandment 6 - Judges 19-21
Commandment 7 - 2 Samuel 11-12
Commandment 8 - Josh 7
Commandment 9 - 1 Kings 21

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Worshipped Him Saying

“Experience is what you get while looking for something else.” — Federico Fellini [1]

So I got some "experience" while I was researching idolatry for my last post American Idols [2]. I was puzzled by the way that different people translated Exodus 20:5. Notice how different parts of the verse are translated as worship.


Exo 20:5 NIV You shall not bow down to them or worship them; ...
Exo 20:5 NASB You shall not worship them nor serve them; ...

It doesn't appear to be a question of word order chosen by the translators. They chose to translate two different Hebrew words as worship. You can't translate both of them as worship, otherwise you would get "Your shall not worship them or worship them". Is one of the words really worship? If so, which one?

It reminded me of something else that's always puzzled me - verses in the book of Matthew that contain the phrase "worshipped him, saying". For example:

Mt 8:2 And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
I thought that the words the leper spoke WAS the act of worship, which didn't make sense. At least, it didn't make sense according to my understanding of the word worship. (And it appears OK to spell it "worshiped" or "worshipped".)

It reminds me of the scene out of Princess Bride [3], where Inigo tells Vizzini
You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.


Can we make sense of these verses? I think so, but we need to learn what worship actually means.

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Define Worship

Let's start with a dictionary definition of worship, American Heritage [4] lists several meanings, these seem most relevant.

1. v. To honor and love as a deity.
2. v. To regard with ardent or adoring esteem or devotion.
3. v. To participate in religious rites of worship.
1b. n. The ceremonies, prayers, or other religious forms by which this love is expressed: a chapel where worship is held daily.

None of those really fit the leper saying "If you are willing". How do religious people define worship? Here are some statements about worship.

Worship Definition: How Does the Bible Define Worship? - Worship Deeper [5]

Put simply, worship is declaring the greatness of someone or something.

The act of worship can be just about anything that honors God.

In Christian circles, worship has also morphed to mean a certain type of music.

What Is Worship? - Desiring God [6]

The inner essence of worship is to know God truly and then respond from the heart to that knowledge by valuing God, treasuring God, prizing God, enjoying God, being satisfied with God above all earthly things.

What Is Worship and What Isn’t It? - Crosswalk [7]

Worship is loving God

 Judging from the titles of these articles, it seems to be a question that comes up, something that people  (like me) are unsure of. In researching this, I learned that  North Central University in my home state of Minnesota offers a B.S. degree in Worship Leading. Worship Leading is a music position where "Students will be prepared to use music to worship, bring God’s Word to life, evangelize, disciple others, and further God’s work." - North Central University [8]. Of course, many other universities offer such a degree.

What Does The Bible Say About Worship?

Many verses are quoted in these articles that contain the word worship. So let's look at what words are actually being used, and what those words mean. Back to Inigo.

In the Old Testament, three words are translated as worship.

Shachah [9] – to bow down, prostrate oneself (worship 99 times)
Abad [10] – to serve (worship 5 times)
Sagad  [11] – to fall down, prostrate oneself (worship 3 times in very few translations)

Abraham saw three men

That clears up Exodus 20:5. Mashing the Hebrew into the English, it says,
"You shall not shachah to them or abad them". Or as the Faithful Version [12] translates it, " You shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them". Now that makes sense to me. Take any occurrence of the word worship in the Old Testament, look up the underlying word* (which is almost always shachah), and just translate it as above. It will be either "bow down" or "serve". The first appearance of shachah is in Gen 18:2. God appeared to Abraham who "ran from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground (KJV)"


So bowing down seems to be the appropriate action when meeting with the Creator. - Worship Deeper [5].

Abad is translated as serve over 200 times, but only 5 times as worship, so to me there is much less confusion about this word.

And for the Greek New Testament, four words are translated as worship. 

Proskuneo  [13] –  ie to prostrate oneself (worship 60 times)
Sebomai  [14] – to revere, ie to adore, devout (worship 6 times)
Latreuo  [15] – to minister to (worship 4 times)
Therapeuo  [16] – to serve, to heal (worship 1 time)

Worship is translated from proskuneo the vast majority of the time. Just like in the Old Testament, shachah is translated as worship the vast majority of the time. And the meaning of the both words is bow down. Look at this example from the New Testament where a few translations, notably the King James, use the word worship.

Mt 18:26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 

Lord, have patience with me

I chose this because it uses the phrase "worshipped Him saying", but the servant is speaking to a man, not God.  Meaning that "worship" here is not directed to God. It just means bow down. Look at the various ways others translated Mt 18:26  - *Bible Hub [17].

New International Version - fell on his knees before him.
New American Standard Bible - fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him,
Christian Standard Bible - fell facedown before him
Contemporary English Version - got down on his knees
NET Bible - threw himself to the ground before him

Final Thoughts

The origin of the word worship is from Old English and simply meant "condition of being worthy", synonyms being "dignity, honor, glory". Worship in the sense of "reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being" is first recorded around 1300AD - Online Etymology [18]. In modern Hebrew [19], worship translates as sagad, one of the words mentioned above, which again means bow down. While God is in a "condition of being worthy", that is, He is dignified and honorable, worship doesn't seem like a good translation for shachah or proskuneo or any of the words translated as worship. In fact:

It is not clear why the shachah came to be translated as “worship” - Ecclesia Koinonia [20]

Whatever meaning the word worship has taken on in modern English, I'm more comfortable with the more literal, more Biblical definition. When I read or hear the word worship, I want to think of it Biblically, as the commandment said, "You shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them". I find that easier to understand than the definitions I quoted above.  And when the book of Revelation warns those that worship the Beast or the image of the Beast, it uses proskuneo, a warning not to bow down to it. If you obey (serve) the Beast, you are a slave of the Beast. It might become important to keep that in mind someday.

* Tools for Bible study are more accessible than ever. Two that I use often are Bible Hub and ESword. Bible Hub [21] is a web site that has features to show multiple translations of a verse, Bible Commentaries on that verse, the Hebrew or Greek for that verse, plus more. Esword [22] is a free Bible app I downloaded to my computer, making it available without Internet. The free version only displays King James, but it can show the Hebrew or Greek as well.


19. Webster's NewWorld Hebrew/English Dictionary 1992, p823